Monday, August 30, 2010

Surgery Day 2!

Today we took our full bag and hopped in a taxi. Once we arrived at the hospital, we had a short team meeting, and then went to our home base. We walked through the post-op rooms, chatting with our friends from the day before. We saw Angel, Ariadna, Brenda, David, Nicardo, Sandi, Saul, and Melchor. They were all in better spirits then they had been after surgery, but they were tired. Then, we played with Alejandro, who was a joyous nine year old. Alejandro had surgery for his cleft lip when he was younger, and he was receiving cleft palate surgery today. He loved playing with leis, and was very patient. He colored for what seemed like hours. We all played Jenga, which he loved. We laughed everytime the Jenga building fell, and he smiled shyly everytime we took a photo of him. We were then joined by Julio, Rapheal, Angel Eduardo, Eduardo, Eduardo, and Alejandro. This Alejandro had gotten surgery for his cleft lip when he was younger, and today he was receiving a bone graft from his hip to recreate the part of his gum that he didn't have. Playing with 3 Eduardos and 2 Alejandros got confusing, but it was fun and exciting as well. The youngest Eduardo was three and he was in love with the these Captain Spock toys from Burker King. He had a unilateral cleft lip, and was one of the cutest boys that we had seen. The toys said " love long and prosper". With all the noise he put two very close to his ears. It was absolutely adorable, and so sweet. The other two Eduardos loved playing with the balloon punching bags. While the Eduardos played with punching bags, Alejandro and Arielle spent time blowing up many balloons and using stickers to write "Alejandro" on every single balloon. They then played volleyball with the balloons with the other Alejandro, and another Eduardo (haha), and after that, all three boys rapidly stuck stickers all over Arielle's face and body. What we, as the student team, find so fascinating is that these children have the strength, capacity, and passion to play and have fun even when they know they are about to enter surgery. Every child we played with met and played with today was so precious.

After playing with this group of boys for awhile, we decided we wanted to do some presentations for the parents of the patients who were receiving surgery today. At first we did not have translators. Alexandra, with her two years of Spanish, tried her best to present the dental module. Surprisingly, the parents understood the basic necessities of oral hygiene. With about a quarter of the presentation left, a translator from Operation Smile's sponsor, Xango, helped us present the rest of our oral hygiene presentation and review the part Alexandra translated. After the success of our first presenation, we decided to present the next two modules: oral rehydration therapy and nutrition. We presented the oral rehydration therapy presentation yesterday, and it was so interesting to see one of the mothers raise her hand and demonstrate the signs of dehydration. After we completed the presentations, the Xango translators asked the mothers some questions to test them on what they learned. From their answers, we were able to see that our presentations worked at spreading their knowledge about basic, but very important matters.

All of the children that we had met and played with yesterday were being discharged today, and we were very upset that we had to say goodbye to them. For about half an hour, Jen and Alex played with Ariadna with some puzzles and Alex's camera. They also played volleyball with David. Anhel was coloring drawings a few feet away. We kissed each child profusely when they left, and took multiple photographs with them as well. We miss every child that we met, every child that we built a strong relationship with and felt like big sisters for. We hope to see each child again.

One of the patients that we met yesterday, Esther, recieved bone graft surgery from her hip. The surgeons had extracted a piece of her bone and created a piece of her gum for her. This was outstanding to us; she didn't even look like she was in any pain at all.

We also interviewed one of the patients that we met today. Arielle asked her questions, while Alexandra translated the questions into Spanish. Jacqueline, who was 14 years old, had two sisters and one brother. Her mother was a housewife, and her father was a bus driver. Jacqueline had a humongous cleft palate that ran from her gums to her throat. She had received surgery for her unilateral cleft lip when she was four years old. She was never given any opportunities to receive surgery for her palate, except for once last December, when she was then turned away by the surgeons. Jacqueline encountered many problems because of her palate. She was not able to speak normally, and it was extremely difficult for her to eat. In addition, she had problems learning in school and interacting socially with others. Jacqueline lived in another city in Tlaxcala, not Apizaco (where the hospital was located), and when she heard about Operation Smile, she had to travel 6 hours to reach the hospital. Her final opportunity to finally receive surgery was a dream come true for Jacqueline. Jacqueline's story is truly inspirational to us, and from her story, we were able to really understand and observe the amoutn of obstacles that she encountered because of her cleft. She told us she hopes to become a doctor in the future.

After we played with all the children, we gave the rest of all our toys and toothnrushes to the patients. The arch bishop of Tlaxcala came and blessed the children as well! Tomorrow, we are very excited because we will be observing two surgeries and after that, we will be visiting a school for disabled children. We can't wait!! :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Surgery Day!

Today was the first day of surgery and we could not wait for it to begin. We loaded our giant Santa Clause-esque bag, and headed out. Our bag was so hefty that we planned on taking a taxi. However, as we waited on the curb in front of our hotel, no taxis drove past. A team consensous among the student programs team decided we will walk there, in order not to miss the meeting at the hospital. We arrived in around ten minutes with cramped arms, but excited spirits. Once we arrived, we dropped our bag in the child life area, and visited today's nervous and anxious patients. We visited the chatty patients, and dropped off toys for them. Then they journeyed to the child life special area, where they played with medical themed toys. The kids were all so excited for there new smiles; they constantly ran around playing with balls and balloons that we blowed up for them. The patients would draw faces on them, and dress them with stickers. Later, they discovered the art of popping balloons. Every time one popped, laughs and smiles rang throughout the floor. Today we met new friends, like Guadalope, Brenda, Esther, Nicardo, Thalia, David, and many more. We also spent time with friends we had met on Friday, like Melchor. Melchor was 9 and had the biggest smile that stretched from cheek to cheek. He had a unilateral cleft lip. He came with his dad, and was extremely ready for the day. He was in love with technology. He was fascinated by our cameras, and absolutley loved Arielle's blackberry. Once we played the song Baby by Justin Bieber, and he danced and swayed excitedly. Fortunately, we caught this all on a camera, and when we showed this to him, he giggled for minutes. He also accidently called Arielle's mom. They had the sweetest conversation, where they shared small talk for a couple of minutes. Melchor also let us take his picture for almost half and hour. His smile was adorable, and during every second we spent time with him, we laughed and smiled because his radiating happiness was contagious. We also played with Saul. Saul had a bilateral cleft lip, but what he lacked in bone, he made up heart and soul. Saul also had no thumbs, and what seemed like a behaviorial problem. When we spoke to his mother, we found out that his dream was to go to school. He loved popping balloons, and everytime he did his smile grew to titanic proportions, and his laugh was contagious. He was like an old man in a young boy's body; his gait swung from side to side, and he walked in short steps. His spirit was young, and he made all the other kids laugh. He was in surgery for what seemed like forever. When he came out, he looked like a new person. He entered as a cute, lovable boy, and came back as a handsome young man. Saul's story is something that has deeply touched the entire student team, a tale that proves the power that Operation Smile possesses in changing the unfortunate lives of many children and giving them the opportunities to changing their fates.

The transformations of the patients we played with the last few days was shocking. Ariadna, a young girl who we played with very much on Friday, went into surgery today. She went in with a repaired bilateral cleft lip, and came out looking very adorable, sleepy, but very happy as well. A 46 year old man with a cleft palate also went into surgery, a fact that was stunning to all. Everything went really well in the surgery ward.

We also presented our dental hygiene and oral rehydration therapy posters to the kids and the parents who are receiving surgery tomorrow. A local high school senior translated our English to Spanish for our little audience, and we handed out toothbrushes at the end of our presentations. After presenting, we colored and played with bubbles with the little children. One infant in particular, Iker, stood out to us. Iker was 8 months old, and had a cleft lip. He was one of the cutest kids that we had ever seen, and was always smiling. We took many pictures with him.

After our surgery day, the student team walked back to the hotel. We dropped off our Santa Clause laundry bag at the hotel, and then headed out to find a traditional Mexican restaurant. We found a great one right near our hotel, and had a delicious dinner. Arielle also ate something other than bread! She had beans and cooked vegetables. After dinner, we came back home, and divided our toothnrushes and toys before we showered and went to bed. We can't wait for tomorrow!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Team Day!

This day started a bit later because today was our free day. After we woke up and ate breakfast, the group gathered together and boarded busses to a ranch. The ranch was owned by one of the best matadors in all of Tlaxcala. The bus ride took about an hour. Once we finally arrived, the matador took us to see the field of bulls. The bulls range from black to brown, and some were spotted. We all took pictures of the bulls gallavanting around their field. Then, we walked through a field which had bulls in it, with NO gate separating us from the raging bulls. The bulls ran around crazily, and scared everyone on the team with their constant groans. After that, the whole team gathered in a room full of newspaper cutouts about bullfighting. The room was literally filled with posters and photographs, ostentasiously showing off vibrant pictures of bulls and their bullfighters. Following this, the bull ranch presented us with delicious appetizers. We tried different foods and delicious drinks. Along with the traditional Mexican staple, tamales, we also ate very interesting snacks, including pig skin, and drank some ethnic beverages. Most notably was a juice created from the pulp of a flower. After munching our appetizers, the whole team headed over to a bull ring located on the property. A very tiny, brown haired baby bull was led into the ring. He looked very skinny, and had the number "57" branded into his skin. At first, the matador beguiled the bull with a pink and yellow cape. The bull kicked and rammed into the cape several times. Then the matador brought out the traditional red cape. The baby bull got even angrier. After this, the matador invited members of out team out into the ring. At first our teammates were a little tame, and acted shyly with the bull, but then they became rather adventurous and started teasing the bull by running around and shaking their bodies. One of the plastic surgeons, Dr. Blas, got rammed and stepped on by a bull! However, he got back up, and into the ring again After playing with the bull with the cape for awhile, the team then decided to play a game. Some team member received a domino card, and they needed to put their domino card in the middle of the ring before the bull raged after them. This game caused much apprehension, as many of the team members were a little nervous to be in the same ring as the bull. Luckily, nobody got hurt, and the game ended without any injuries. After staying at the bull ring, the whole team headed over to the food area, where we were served lunch while members of Tlaxcala's Rotary Club sang for us. We were served tacos with pork and beans, along with some bread and rice. After we ate lunch and conversed with each other, the whole team boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. A famous historian came to meet us at the hotel, and gave us a very interesting presentation about the history of Tlaxcala. We learned about the origins of the city, and the special archaeological sites in the Tlaxcala community. After this presentation, we had a team meeting, where we played the Name Game and talked about the schedule for the next day. We then had dinner, where we had some of the same and some different foods from lunch, and then after dinner, we headed back to our rooms. We divided our toys and toothbrushes for surgery day tomorrow, and with sleep already forcing our eyes to close, we collapsed on our beds to sleep. We can't wait for tomorrow to see the kids!!!!

Friday, August 27, 2010


Screening day started at 5 AM for us, because we repel technology and technology repels us. Arielle set her phone alarm for 6 AM, but for some reason her phone went "loco" and it shocked us out of our sleep at 5. Instead of staying up, we decided to powernap for another hour. At 6, we woke up again and got ready for breakfast. After we dragged our huge laundry bag of sunglasses, crayons, coloring books, stickers, crowns, bubbles, stuffed animals, Burger King toys, over 150 toothbrushes, and of course, our presentations, we had breakfast with two of the plastic surgeons on the mission, Cesar and Enrique. We learned that they were from Guadalajara, and they were in their last year of residency. Breakfast adjourned at 7:20, and then the team trudged four blocks to Tlaxcala's hospital. When we got to the hospital, we saw lines of anxious parents and tired, bundled children staring at us with a glimpse of hope in their eyes. We went on a tour of the hospital, and then we started our day's work. We mostly worked in the waiting area outside, where all the patients and their families sat for hours and waited to be screened, and hopefully, for surgery. The first child we met was Adrian, who was a year and nine months old. Adrian was bundled up in a plaid jacket, blue scarf, and a red white and blue hat. Adrian had already gotten surgery for his cleft lip, and he came back to the hospital for a follow up surgery. He acted really shy, but he lightened up when we gave him a balloon hand. After that, we took some kids to a nearby table and gave them some coloring books and crayons. Michel, an 8 year old, was one of the girls who sat with us. Beaming with hope and excitement, Michel had a formerly repaired cleft lip, and she was coming to the hospital for a second surgery. She really was one of the sweetest children, constantly playing, hugging, and kissing us. Neomy, a 10 year old, also sat at the table. Despite her cleft lip, Neomy was bursting with undying enthusiasm and excitement, and always attempted to translate Alexandra's broken Spanish into understandable words for the rest of the children to comprehend. Ardariana, a 4 year old who proudly showed off her Pooh and Piglet shirt to the world, had a bilateral cleft lip surgery done before, and was coming in for a revision. She was full of joy, and always wanting to play with the older kids. Her smile was contagious, and she was always exuberant and friendly. We played with a blown up glove, and it never got old. Each throw was exciting and new. The sweetest part was that if it had dropped they would give the glove for someone else to have a chance to throw. After that, we colored and played with stickers, and of course, played with bubbles. We also presented our Oral Hygiene and Burn Care modules.They got to brush the giant mouth, and everyone got a toothbrush. As the first group of kids left, we met new children like Pablo and Pedro. They were twin brothers, and both had repaired cleft lips, but needed some more revisions. They had the biggest hearts and the most joyous smiles. The day was winding down when we met LeTicia. She was so sweet, and always wanting to play. She would hold our hands and talk to us about our homes. As three rolled around we still had one playmate left: Erica. She was there with her sister since early in the morning, but her spirits never foddered. She was only four years old, yet her two front teeth were almost completley decayed, but she still had such a cute smile. She was dancing with us to Hannah Montana, and playing PacMan on Jen's iPod touch. She would always say hola to us as we passed, and her enthusiasm carried on into us. Although most of the day was filled with joy and happiness, there was one point that struck as extremely depressing. After each child was screened, those that were chosen for surgery had their names posted on a wall chart. Indeed, we witnessed gratitude and relief in the eyes of those whose dreams had finally come true, but unfortunately, we also saw despair in the cascading tears on the faces of those who had been turn away. We saw teenagers crying on benches with their parents, and even children that we had played with, including Marisol and Michel, looking extremely distraught. If only Operation Smile had more resources and time, more of these kids could have had life-changing opportunities.

Throughout the day we met amazing children, who were funny, smart, and compassionate. They all had one thing in common: their undying enthusaiasm. As the day was done we packed up and went back to our hotel. As we arrived back at the room we collapsed onto our beds, and passed our cameras between the two of us; reliving the memories of they day. We the enjoyed some nachos for dinner, and came back to the room to get a good night's rest. We are looking forward to the next five days!

With love,
Alexandra Spiegel and Arielle Sasson

Travel Day

The travel day started very early, 4:15 to be exact. Groggily, unable to get out of bed, we dragged ourselves to our different airports. After saying goodbye to our family, pets, and ice (we can't have it here), we deaprted on our flights to Houston. Alexandra came first at 8 AM, where she read, and waited with much anticipation in Terminal B. Jen came in at about 10:40, with Arielle coming in about ten minutes before that. Jen and Alexandra met in Terminal B , and hitched a ride with the air train to Terminal C, where Arielle sat impatiently, with her large red backpack, which stuck out like a sore thumb. After Jen and Alexandra waved for a bit, Arielle finally realized that they were not just sketchy travelers. After we had our first face to face meeting, we quickly ran to Terminal E to board our flight to Mexico City. We arrived at our gate with about 20 minutes to spare- perfect time for us to find out everything (literally) about each other. We boarded the plane, and talked to each other for the entire two hour flight. As we proceeded closer and closer to Mexico, we stared outside of the plane window and saw the rough, red roofs of the stucco buildings glittering with sunlight back at us. We arrived in the Mexico City airport with overflowing excitement, and immediately went through Immigration and Customs. After that, we started meeting people on our mission's team. We met Devon, our mission's photographer, and Marisa, a recovery room nurse. After an hour, we headed onboard a very small bus with fifteen other members of our mission, and started our two hour journey to the beautiful historic city of Tlaxcala. The differences between our own home towns and the suburbs of Mexico City were definitely striking. As we sped past dilapidated buildings, we thought about how lucky we are with our current standard of living, and became even more anxious to give back to our Mexican Community. After our two hour bus ride, we entered the city of Tlaxcala. The city was sprawling with colorful houses and the area was more populated than we had expected. After a few minutes, we came to our old but beautiful Hotel Mission, which was just begging for us to take photographs of its interior. After dropping our suitcases in our room, we joined Erin, the Mission Coordinator, Marisa and Sue, two nurses, and Emily, the head of Medical Records, for a quick downing of deliciously creamy spinach soup. A little later, we had a team meeting and discussed the schedule for the next week. Following that, we had a delicious Italian dinner in the hotel, and then, after dividing our copious amounts of toys and toothbrushes in our room, we promptly fell asleep.

With love,
Alexandra Spiegel and Arielle Sasson

Monday, August 23, 2010

So soon...

In less then 60 hours we will be traveling to Tlaxcala, our home for the next week. With us, we both bring suitcases filled with everything from crayons to bubbles, stuffed animals to stickers, and of course, toothbrushes galore. But we are not just bringing trinkets with us, we are bringing new hope, and new smiles for many. We know that we will teach the children and adults about oral hygiene, nutrition, oral rehydration therapy, and fire prevention and fire safety. However, we will learn many things along the way as well. We have no idea what we have in store for us, but we are so excited to find out. We are going to try to share with you as much as we can. And hopefully it will be a lot. We can't wait, and we hope you will try to follow us every step of the way.

With love,
Alexandra and Arielle