Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day 9 - EDUARDO !!!

In the morning, I visited Dr. John and he showed me how to make an obturator (a device that fills the cleft palate if the child can't receive surgery). I gave away all of our excess tooth brushes (over 700) to Dr. Luce, the dentist at the hospital. She was so appreciative and grateful. She hugged and kissed me. Later, we played with the kids and gave away our extra toys. Then we went into the Operating Room for Eduardo's surgery!! Yes, he was able to finally have surgery. In pre-op, I gave him this little teddy bear that had stitches on the lip. I comforted Eduardo's mom and told her that I was going to stay with him the whole time in surgery and everything will be ok. She gave me the hugest hug and squeezed me so tightly. I teared up a little. I can't get over the enormous love and devotion the Brazilian mothers and father have for their children. I even had the chance to take a photo with Eduardo, his mom and the teddy bear before surgery.
Then, if that wasn't enough, it was time to scrub in and observe Eduardo's entire surgery up close. And it was my little buddy's surgery - yeah! After surgery, I came out to tell his mom that it was over. When she saw me, her face lit up with anticipation. I told her it went perfectly and he's doing awesome and looks lindo maravihoso - beautiful! She jumped up and hugged me so tightly...bigger than the first hug..and we both started crying...tears of joy! I said my final good-bye to Eduardo's mom and told her she's a wonderful mother and he's going to be a great kid and have a bright future. She said she loved me from the bottom of her heart.
Words can't really describe these nine days in Fortaleza --- inspirational, transformational... I am deeply indebted to Operation Smile, the team of selfless healers from around the world - doctors, nurses and volunteers - and the gracious and joyful Brazilian families and children I came to know. I am forever changed. The girl that landed in Brazil nine days ago is not the same that is leaving the country tomorrow. Now, we have our wrap up party tonight. I don't want it to end. It's been pure magic!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Day 8 - Hope for the Hopeless

Today I was at the hospital and went into the Operating Room. The opportunity to observe Dr. David Chong literally perform magic was a sight I will never forget. He treated the cleft lip like a jig saw puzzle that needed to be put together - magnificent. Yes, he healed a genetic deformity but more importantly, he gave hope to the hopeless. These children and their families now no longer have to feel shame or cursed by their children's appearance. Now the children can eat normally and go to school. This surgery heals the body but helps the soul - now they have hope, hope for a future, a good life.
We also went into the recovery room to see the kids and lend a hand. The post operative medical team is unreal - focused on keeping the patients comfortable and safe, not touching their stitches and staying pain free. It was cool that I used a stethoscope to check the heart beat of one of the patients...Super hands-on experience. Dr. Drew Schnitt gave us the complete inside scoop on medical school and how you apply and what it's like and the classes you take. It's not enough that these medical doctors are volunteering their time and talents to give hope to these children and their families...they are also spending their time inspiring us to pursue the practice of medicine. I couldn't have scripted a better experience on all levels!
Seems little Eduardo went home because he wasn't on the surgery schedule or standby list - so sad. I know he'll receive his surgery on the next Operation Smile mission!
We visited an orphanage today and gave the kids ALL these toys and the soccer balls. We gave two presentations and received a tour of this heavenly place that these kids who lost their mothers and fathers call home. Visiting the orphans was life altering. The joy and laughter - their captivating smiles - all the while they have no material possessions and no parents. This unexpectedly made me feel overwhelmed with emotion. I realize how blessed I am for the life I have been given. I feel blessed to have met these children and given them simple toys and things to make them laugh and have fun.
Silly stuff happened too - Sam and I rode a see saw - SO funny! Oh, and two boys from the high school we visited earlier in the week were with us all day at the orphanage. Really nice kids even though they speak Portuguese, a smile is universal and that's all we needed to communicate. Really, every one we have met is so sweet, gracious and generous - from the Brazilian people to the medical team and volunteers that have come from all parts of the globe. I can't believe there's only two days left on this journey of a lifetime!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day 7 - Out & About In Fortaleza

First day we slept in. We did go to the hospital for a tiny bit to see the patients. I can't believe it's already Sunday and I only have 3 more days here. A small group of us, along with our translator, went to the Dragao Do Mar which is the cultural center where we experienced the color and brilliance of Northeastern Brazilian life - murals, museum, exhibits. We ate lunch at Docentes & Decentes that was absolutely delicious - a taste of classic Northeastern Brazilian food from the state of Ceara - rice, green beans, carne de sol, cassava! Then we were off to visit another shelter that housed a few Operation Smile patients. There were two 12 year old girls with advanced skin cancer, a boy with lymphoma, a girl with leukemia and a brother and sister who had swelling of the brain when they were infants. They can barely walk yet were SO awesome and full of life. The Sister at the shelter told us how they live life to the fullest every moment. They were true inspirations to all. We gave away a lot of toys and toothbrushes and taught the children how to brush their teeth! I also found out that the little boy I was supposed to follow through surgery, Eduardo, came down with something so they had to postpone his surgery until he is healthy. I really hope he feels better and has his surgery tomorrow. Well, talk to you soon!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 6 - Hands of God

We were at the hospital all day...Played for a little and then went into the Operating Room...Coolest experience EVER! Not every teenager has the chance to be in an OR and witness life changing surgeries! We saw the complete transformation of little Rhemoundo! We witnessed Dr. John extract two teeth...And saw two palates...Dr. Drew was the best surgeon and involved me and Sam. He explained everything and told us what he was doing step by step. We learned about anesthesiology and medication dosages...Different types of stitches...And that a palate has two layers and you fix the tissue...Inspired me to want to be a doctor...Maybe even a surgeon...Just not one that works on the face! OMG - I taught the nurses and doctors how to moon walk in the ER... and got in trouble for it! Haha And Rosie, a nurse from Australia, taught me how to take close up pictures!! Ya it was so amazing - doesn't get any better than this - the grateful children and their families, the generous doctors, the kind spirited nurses, all the brilliant volunteers, the country of Brazil - I know my life has been forever changed in Fortaleza in a mighty way and I owe it all to this charity called Operation Smile.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Day 5 - Best Day Evaaaa!

We went to a High School in Fortaleza in the morning and did a presentation to 40 students. They oohed and ahhed when I said I was from California. I don't know if they were hitting on us - I think I can tell even though it was in Portuguese - asking for our email and facebook addresses. I did give mine to a couple of really nice girls. We had lunch at a Brazilian girl's house. She accompanied us on our visit to the high school and it was very gracious of her to invite us into her home. We then went back to the hospital...Made no no's (I.V. Boards) and I met Eduardo, Rhemoundo and Nico, three little boys awaiting surgery. I fell in love with Eduardo...communicates through smiles...loves to play, laugh, scream...beautiful eyes, curly brown hair, upper cleft lip. I will be following Eduardo through surgery and am so excited! I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. I will tell anyone who will listen about the incredible blessing it is to be a part of the life-changing work of Operation Smile. They allow teen volunteers to really get involved in a meaningful way and make a difference!
On the bus back, I learned about tooth extractions from Dr. John, the miracle dentist from Spokane, Washington, who also was on my sister Sam's mission to Hanoi, Vietnam in November last year - what a cool coincidence! Tonight we had another delicious Italian dinner. The day we spent together was perfect - Suzanne Unger, Director of Student Programs for Operation Smile, Sam DeVito, my student volunteer partner from New Jersey, Dr. John and Lisa Downey, a wonderful mission guest from Ireland. Oh, I was finally able to upload some photos that I hope you'll like - Talk to you tomorrow!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Days 3 & 4 - Beach & Preparing for Surgeries

Wednesday was a team bonding day - at the beach! The beach here is beautiful..waters warm..sand soft...paradise. I went body surfing and played header soccer in the pool with some of the Operation Smile volunteers like Dr. Chong, an amazing plastic surgeon from Australia. He said he'd teach me how to do stitches using a needle and banana. I can't wait!! Dinner was a delicious buffet as usual - all you can eat. The waiters bring different meats on skewers and ask if you want any. It was nice to have the day to relax since the flight here took 36 hours. Our plane wasn't able to leave Miami so the airline put us up in a hotel for the night. We then didn't make the connection from Sao Paolo to Fortaleza and ended up arriving at 1 a.m. Monday and went to the hospital to prepare that very morning - a 36 hour marathon after I took off from LAX on Saturday!! Hey, I'd do it all over again a thousand times - words can't describe what a blessing this trip is in every way imaginable.

Thursday - There are three shelters that house the children who will be having surgery. Today ten of us went to one of the shelters where the children are staying with their mothers. The nuns gave us a tour and we were treated to a dance by the ladies dressed in local costumes. The shelter has a chapel and is really nice. Each bedroom is decorated with a different theme. I can't express enough how loving and thankful the mothers and their children are for what Operation Smile is doing. At the shelter, we didn't get much of a chance to play with the kids but I had a fun moment playing toss with a little boy with a cleft lip. I swear he's going to be a pitcher some day!

We've screened 146 children and 96 will be receiving surgery starting tomorrow! Operation Smile is changing lives one smile at a time - Tchau for now!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day 2 - All Smiles in Fortaleza!!!

Today I woke up at 5:15 am and left the hotel at 6! We screened lots of kids and most have cleft palates. It seems their cleft lip conditions had been repaired on previous missions. Much of the time today I spent coloring with the kids as they are waiting to be screened. It's a lot of pressure to wait to see if you qualify for an operation. It's sad to see the families that have to leave and try again another time. But, the coloring was fun and a great way to take the kids' minds off what was going on. Sam DeVito, my student volunteer partner and I each brought two overly-stuffed huge suitcses with toys, soccer balls and lots to play with and give away. Today, we also made bracelets and sunglasses out of pipe cleaners! We also made bracelets with the Marines. Getting to meet and play with the children is the best. Unexpectedly, I was coloring with a sweet little boy who was sitting on my lap and he peed on me. Oh well! We did about 15 presentations to the waiting families and their kids on oral hygiene, making healthy food choices, oral rehydration and other topics! We have a translator and many of the words on the posters I made are in Portuguese. This adorable girl, Mayana, helped us with our presentations the whole time! I loved her and those big brown eyes!! We tried to make it fun when we taught kids how to brush their teeth properly. I brought this huge caste mouth (you can see it in the photo with Mayana) to demonstrate how to brush your teeth.

One of the best moments was a break we took when I played soccer with Operation Smile's co-founder, Kathy Magee, Dr. Chong and two little boys who could juggle and do tricks! I'm amazed at how universal soccer is...la joga bonito!! One of the biggest pop stars of Brazil, Dinho, made an appearance at the hospital!! Operation Smile's co-founder, Dr. Bill Magee, introduced Sam and I to Dinho and we were interviewed and took photos with him. Just being a student volunteer and we're treated like rock stars - so unexpected!

At the end of the day, my most lasting impression is the universal love a mother and father have for their child. These Brazilian parents just want the best for their kids and are so humble and welcoming. It's humbled me and made me think twice in a way I never expected - seeing people who literally have nothing being profoundly grateful that their kids can be given a chance at normal life. The most memorable moment today came when I just gave a dad one mini beach ball for his child. When he touched his heart and pointed to me to thank me as he walked away, I have never felt so blessed!! Just to have this opportunity to experience charity work at it best with amazing volunteers and beautiful Brazilian families, well it doesn't get sweeter than this. Tomorrow's our team bonding Beach day - I can't wait!!!!!