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!!!!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Thank you all SOOOO much who have generously donated!! This is a picture of all the items (and over 800 toothbrushes) I will be bringing with me to Fortaleza on Saturday!! The kids will LOVE it! People like you make a difference in the world and will definitely change a child's life in Brazil. I love you guys!!! Pray for a safe flight for the entire medical and student team!!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Almost there!!

THANK YOU!!!! Everyone has been so generous that I have just about everything on my "wish list" for the kids - last thing is soccer balls!!

I just returned from the OpSmile International Student Leadership Conference in Denver. The theme was "Be The Change" - super inspirational. A speaker talked about when she was 18 travelling to Nepal and found orphans needed homes there. She started a grass-roots campaign and now has built a house where 300 orphans live and go to school. She only had $5,000 in life savings to start it off and was just a teenager. Another speaker told us to surround ourselves with people who make us better - help us to be our "best selves" - and support us on our path in life.

Again, hugs and kisses to my amazing friends and family who have donated to help the children of Fortaleza! Obrigado!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Smiles, Smiles, Smiles: My Mission to Fortaleza!

First of all, thank you soooo much for being interested in looking at my blog and helping to change the world- one smile at a time!!!

As you may know, I'm going to Fortaleza, Brazil on a 12 day Operation Smile medical mission from August 28 to September 8, 2010. I'm unbelievably excited and honored to be a student volunteer!! Operation Smile provides life-changing facial reconstructive surgeries to children born with cleft lips and cleft palates in third world countries. 5,786 miles away & 23+ hours of travel & LiFe ChAnGiNg SmiLeS - yessss !

(That's where I'm going!!!!)

I created this blog in the hopes that my friends and family (yes, you guys!) would be interested in helping to sponsor my trip for me to bring supplies to the children in the hospital. Operation Smile pays for the airfare, hotel and dinners of the mission team's doctors, nurses, adult and student volunteers. Right now, I am asking for DONATIONS-DONATIONS-DONATIONS on the kid's supply wish list.

I am SOOOOOOO excited! This has been 2 years in the making. The importance of finding a way to help the most vulnerable in society, especially children, motivated my sister and I to start our San Clemente High School campus chapter in 2008, which has raised $20,000 in donations to Operation Smile so far! I was SO stoked to be chosen to attend the Mission Training Workshop because only two high school student volunteers are selected to go on an Operation Smile mission. The student volunteers serve as health care educators giving presentations on oral and dental hygiene, burn care and prevention, oral rehydration therapy and nutrition to the children, their families and at orphanages and schools; I will also be there to play with and comfort the kids and their families during screening, pre-op and post-op. My student volunteer partner (who is an awesome Jersey girl- just as passionate about OP Smile as I am!) and I will also support the medical team in any way. They say we'll have 12 hour working days to screen about 200 children and provide as many surgeries in the time we're there. I can't wait; the day needs to come faster!!! :)

My sister, Sam, is my hero and she volunteered last November on Operation Smile's 20th Anniversary mission to Hanoi, Vietnam. Sam said the children in the screening and pre-op areas LOVED playing with bubbles, coloring books and crayons, stickers, beach balls, and little toys that light up! She brought over 1,000 donated toothbrushes. I'd also like to give away small soccer balls (hey, it's Brazil, soccer capital of the world! Or should I say futebol!)! Sam said meeting the Vietnamese children, families and volunteers changed her life in a big way. I know I will be forever changed by my time in Brazil. (Click here for Sam's mission story)

I feel blessed and have soooooo much to be thankful for (even going on this trip is a blessing!). I believe it is my responsibility to give back in any way I can. There's no reason those less fortunate should needlessly live in a world of isolation and pain. There's no reason a child should be shunned in their community and suffer the humiliation of an easily correctable facial deformity. How many ways can you change people's lives in 45 minutes?!?!? That's how long the $240 surgery takes.

PLEASE contact me (there's a little box with my contact info in the bottom right hand column of the page) if you're interested in helping sponsor my trip! Any money donated goes directly to the purchasing of supplies for the children! If you can donate any of the items or if you could make a monetary donation of any amount, please email me and I'll give you my mailing address if you don't already have it!! :)

I hope you will support me on my journey to help change the world- one smile at a time! I hope you find OP Smile as incredible and unbelievable as I do. :) THANK YOU! THANK YOU! OBRIGADO! (in Portuguese!) OBRIGADO!

Much Love, xoxo,


"Don't let the world change your smile; let your smile change the world."