Armed Forces of El Salvador Help Children and Teenagers Get their Smiles Back
By Lorena Baires/Diálogo September 21, 2016Carlos Edmundo Torres' eyes welled up when they told him that his youngest son, 4-year-old Carlos Mauricio, had just had his smile reconstructed. Surgeons from the Salvadoran Armed Forces' (FAES) Central Military Hospital (HMC, per its Spanish acronym) and the Austin, Texas-based plastic surgery foundation Austin Smiles gave him the good news. Like many others with few resources who suffer from a cleft lip or palate, little Carlos Mauricio was one of 118 beneficiaries of the 44th facial reconstruction campaign held in HMC last June 12th-17th. Since 1992, the HMC has been the headquarters for this effort, which takes place twice a year. Pediatricians, technicians, highly qualified military support personnel, and plastic surgeons from the foundation participate in these campaigns, serving Salvadorans who suffer from these deformities, free of charge. Sitting in an emergency room hallway at around noon, Torres recounted the agony of being admitted to the medical outreach campaign. "I don't have the words to thank the Military Hospital and all the doctors for having cured my child. Now, I can live in peace because he'll have a normal life. No one will make fun of him, nor will he have any problems eating," said Torres, 45, who came from the municipality of Apopa to participate in the event. Twelve-year-old Ricardo Martínez was also waiting in the Emergency Room. A timid smile came across his face when the doctors took him to perform a third surgery, which was finally going to correct his nasal deformity. "My son was six months old when they operated on him for the first time, and his second surgery was when he was nine. No doubt his life changed for the better. Today, we came having faith that this final operation will return his smile to him and allow him to breathe easy," said Juliana de Martínez, 54, the child's mother. The Austin Smiles Foundation has been coming to HMC for the past 44 years to reconstruct not only cleft lips and palates but also to completely eliminate congenital deformities of the nose and jaw related to taking unprescribed medications during the first few months of pregnancy or severe malnutrition of the mother. Dr. Leilani Briseño, Director of Austin Smiles, explained that "these surgeries, which are completely free of charge, are a great help to the families because the patients receive all of the surgical material to use as well as the medications that are prescribed to them for the post-operative phase. This ensures that the medical care is complete." On this occasion, none of the beneficiaries presented any complications afterwards. The HMC provided medical care to many others, placing osteosynthesis materials during a surgery that consists of binding fractured bone fragments by using metallic elements. "The HMC makes all of its facilities and surgical material available to provide the highest-level medical care free of charge to these individuals because we understand that it would be nearly impossible for them to pay for these treatments," stressed Lieutenant Colonel and Pediatrician Carmen Montti, chief of the Pediatrics Department at the HMC. In accordance with the HMC protocol, those suffering from a cleft lip or palate need to have at least four surgeries: closing of the lip three months after they are born; closing of the palate between two and three years of age; correction of the lip and the ala of the nose (wing of the nose) beginning at 11 years of age and finally, speech assessments to see if an operation on the velopharyngeal flapis is necessary. The Rotary Club of San Salvador Cuscatlán (CRSSC, per its Spanish acronym) supports patients during the selection process and after the surgeries. "This effort is possible thanks to the teamwork and the medical and logistical support provided by the specialists from the Military Hospital and the Foundation. Thanks to them, these children and teenagers will have a better quality of life," said David Bará, Director of the CRSSC. The FAES has been supporting these free medical outreach days since 1992 so that more Salvadorans can have a better life. To date, the smiles of over 2,900 children and adults from the interior of the country – as well as from other Central American nations – have been restored.