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El Salvador’s Hospital Militar Reconstructs Smiles for Needy Central Americans

El Salvador’s Hospital Militar Reconstructs Smiles for Needy Central Americans

By Dialogo
July 21, 2015

Well, it does my heart good to know there are people ready to help.
I would like to know when they will be coming again to El Salvador.

El Salvador’s Armed Forces (FAES), together with the Cuscatlán Rotary Club (CRC) and surgeons from the Austin Smiles Foundation in the United States, are performing reconstructive surgeries at no charge for low-income Salvadorans with a cleft lip or palate.

The Hospital Militar Central (HMC) in San Salvador hosts this effort twice a year. Since 1992, pediatricians, technicians and Military support personnel at the hospital have worked with the Foundation's plastic surgeons to treat more than 75 patients per session.

“The hospital is always looking for ways to support the poorest among us in this country, and in neighboring countries; those who would find it impossible to pay for surgery like this,” said Colonel José Francisco Samayoa, HMC's director. “That is why we place all of our facilities at their disposal: to provide free, top-quality treatment.”

To date, the cooperative effort has rebuilt more than 2,400 smiles for children and adults in El Salvador; most patients are from El Salvador, though some are from other Central American nations, such as Honduras and Guatemala. Session 39 was held from June 7 to 12, when physicians not only performed surgeries to reconstruct cleft lips and palates, but also procedures to completely eliminate congenital deformities of the mandible.

Restoring smiles

“This year, we performed mandibular surgeries for several adolescents who had prior surgeries in earlier sessions but who still needed corrections to other aspects of the initial deformity,” said Lieutenant Colonel Carmen Monti, a pediatrician and chief of HMC's Pediatrics Department. “We are very happy, because now they have beautiful smiles and a better quality of life.”

Facial deformities are caused when expectant mothers ingest certain medications without a prescription during the first months of their pregnancy, or if the expectant mother is suffering from severe malnutrition, said Dr. Roberto Pineda Nieto, the Austin Smiles Foundation's coordinator for El Salvador.

“People who suffer from this sort of deformity need to have at least four operations: closing the lip three months after birth, closing the palate between two and three years, corrections to the lip and the nasal ala after the age of 11 and, finally, speech evaluations to see whether surgery is necessary on the velopharyngeal flap,” Dr. Pineda Nieto added.

The CRC supports the patients during the selection process by collecting their medical histories and, after the surgery, providing financial assistance for food and medication.

“This is possible thanks to all of the logistical and medical support given to us by the specialists at the Hospital Militar and the Foundation,” said Dr. Víctor Silhy, a CRC representative. “We work as a team, and the patients thank us with a new smile.”

A better quality of life

Many of the patients who end up thanking the FAES, the CRC and the Austin Smiles Foundation are kids.

For instance, at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, Eduardo Rivera, a 30-year-old who works for a food company, and his 5-year-old daughter, Samantha, were among dozens of Salvadorans waiting in front of the HMC for a chance to get on the list to have a life-changing surgery. Samantha was born in 2010 with a cleft lip and palate, and during the 2013 sessions, surgeons closed the cleft. Now, she’s hoping to have surgery to complete the correction of her lip deformity.

“I am very grateful to everyone involved in this project because they have definitely given my daughter the chance to have a better life,” Rivera said. “I am coming now, trusting to faith, that they will be able to help her again.”

On June 8, medical workers wheeled Samantha into the operating room, and she is currently under medical observation to evaluate the surgery's results.

Nathaly Cáceres, 4, was also selected by physicians to correct a facial deformity. Nathaly’s mother, Ana Mercedes de Cáceres, a 29-year-old secretary at an insurance company in San Salvador, was brought to tears by the treatment her daughter received.

“On my salary, we never would have been able to pay for this kind of surgery [some $6,000], and I was afraid that my daughter would grow up with a deformed face,” she said after Nathaly was selected. “Now, I have hope. This is only a short time in her life, and she will have the smile she deserves.”