Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all very Merry Christmas! I hope everyone is able to take time, laugh, listen and share memories with the ones closest to your heart. Now, get off the computer! ;)

Here's Josh and I pre-sunburn on the Inka Trail. It was a truly unforgettable experience and I'm so happy to have shared it with my best friend, love, and partner in crime.

Big Smiles... filled with holiday cookies,
Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo.

FACES Peru Trip | Day 7, Final Day.

Last Day in the OR!

It's the last day in the OR. It's been bittersweet seeing the families come in, worry and wait and then see their children after the operation filled with thanks and joy. Aside from the experience of being in scrubs and in the OR watching surgery firsthand, it's the thankful emotional state of families that's been most rewarding. It's amazing what just a few people can do for the lives of others.

On the other hand here's somethin' that'll make you laugh...

Yep, that's me. Don't I look fabulous in blue? Can you see the surgery happening in the lower left corner? I would never be able to do something like this in the states. Nosiree.

Friday, the final day of surgeries was a quiet one. The day consisted of 3 patients bringing us to a total of 17 patients for the week. I can't say enough wonderful things about the team and how they each give a specific way to this trip. There are people who have skills in so many different areas, it's truly amazing to see this group of people turn into a well oiled machine in order to better the lives of others.

Rosa was actually scheduled for Monday, but when she came in doctors found it unsafe to operate because she had a cold. A little quick thinking lead to a swap in schedules adding Rosa to Friday and a Friday patient to earlier in the week. Unsure if we were going to operate or not, everyone arrived, met Rosa and checked her lungs right away. Safe! It was wonderful to be able to tell the family her surgery would be able to go through.

Meet Rosa! She's our youngest patient at 5 months old.

We also Operated on Yordy, a 16 year old boy, who has had his lip repaired but needed his nose fixed. I've recently learned that back home these types of patients may have up to 7 surgeries to repair everything begin with the lip, palate, nose, gums and teeth. It's very extensive and sometimes, depending on the case, need follow up work. I'm so happy Yordy was able to make it back for his nose.

It's been a wonderful time working with everyone this week and also being able to share with everyone back home what FACES as been up to. As this week comes to a close I know the people of Peru will be heavy on our hearts.

Before I leave I wanted to share some wonderful images from the local market. Yesterday I actually had the chance to visit for a few and capture some of the local people outside the clinic walls.

Taken right outside our hotel

At the local market

Thanks so much to everyone for following along, thanks for your support, encouragement and love. Just like the people say in Chiclayo, Ciao!

Big Smiles! Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo

FACES Peru Trip | Day 6

Today seems to be going very smoothly with two cleft pallets and one lip up on the menu. Everyone seems to be settling in the grove of the trip and yet at the same time I catch more and more people taking cat naps around the clinic.

The day started a bit more calm, we said goodbye to all our patients first thing in the morning because they are doing so well. Levi and Jorge both went home with a visual change in their face, happy as could be with the soccer balls and toys. Martina was also discharged later this morning and let with her caring sister. It's simply amazing that we can come for one week and change a patient for a lifetime.

Bye Jorge!

Bye Levi!

Bye Martina!

Delia on the right (our amazing Peruvian help), Jorge and Tammy.

We began the day with Nicol, this sweet 19 month little girl with a open palate. Oftentimes when this is the child's first surgery it can be very hard and scary fro the parents. When Nicol when into the Or mom began to cry for her daughter. It's so touching to know that Nicol's mom truly cares for her and is concerned for her daughter but just can't do anything about it. It's a blessing to know FACES can help needy children when their parents can't even help.

Here's sweet Nicol... her palate was repaired so there isn't much to see... and good luck getting a 19 month to open their mouth.

Jesse and Jackie working the music. It helps with concentration you know.

The second case was very sad. We proceeded as normal and Tammy prepped little Leonardo, 17 months, for surgery. He was brought here by his mom and grandma. While we were prepping him we learned he had been on medication earlier this week but was initially cleared for surgery for his cleft palette. While under his lungs started to react to medication given to clear them up. The medical team– who is ultimately responsible for the childs well being– did not feel comfortable continuing the operation and decided it best for the child to cancel the operation. After the child woke up and the mom and grandmother returned tears of saddened began flowing because of disappointment that little Leonardo could not be operated on... he was not well enough for the surgery. It broke my heart to see the family cry for this poor little boy.

Thanks again for reading everyone! I'm so happy to share with you all. I can't wait to decompress further about this trip. It's been so fast that I know there are more feelings and thoughts going on. Thanks for being with me every step of the way.

Big Smiles. Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo.

FACES Peru Trip | Day 5

It's day five and the schedule has us all going little something like this... Up at 6:20, breakfast at 6:45, clinic at 7:15. The first two cases start before lunch and the final one begins at around 3 pm depending on how long the first 2 take. Each surgery is roughly 2-3 hours which does not include prep, pre op and post op. Patients are at the clinic for about a full day and a half. Photographs are required in preop, beginning of surgery, mid surgery, final surgery, in recovery and then with parents. I need to be here for all stages to document the trip. When everything is done some of us will head to dinner (which takes a few hours cause nothing is rushed here) and then head back to the hotel to blog both on FACES blog and Soul Mates Photo Blog. Whew, talk about a big day!

Today, Wednesday, there are 3 cases on the schedule, 1 cleft lip and 2 cleft pallets. Jorge is only 10 months old and is having his lip done. Just like Evelyn was a few days ago, Jorge is as calm as can be. He's a curious little thing following everyone with his eyes.

We said goodbye to Milagros from yesterday and showed her the new nose and taught her how to care for it.

Levi came in second for his cleft pallet and boy did he have some energy... after a while he calmed down and was able to play with his new toys provided by people from home. The kids love the hats, soccer balls, stuffed animals and blankets. Here's Levi before his surgery to repair pallet work. Levi already had his lip done and is here for his pallet. Her also has a ear deformity where his left ear is completely closed and has no developed eardrum.

The third patient of today was 24 year old Martina who was raised in a remote mountains town. I teared up at her story. Brave Martina had her first surgery last year to repair her lip and is back today to have her palette done. We soon learned that Martina never went to school because of her lip, she was too embarrassed and teased too often not only by the way she looked but also because of the way she sounded when she talked. Since she had her lip done she decided to attend first grade at 23 years old. Today she is so happy she can sign her name and being to be understood by her peers. Martina now lives with her her sister in Lima which is about 2 hours south from Chiclayo where FACES is working. Cross you fingers for Martina, the hope is that she will be able to come back every other month for speech therapy with the local rep. I do hope this sweet girl can have the therapy she needs... If it all works out she'll also be a great candidate for nose reconstruction next time.

Here's Martina!

Again, thanks so much for reading. I can't believe there are only 2 more days of surgery remaining.

Big smiles. Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo.

FACES Peru Trip | Day 4

Isury was our first patient today. FACES saw her last year for her cleft lip– it was successful and she came back today for her cleft pallet. Little Isury is now 18 months old and the first and only child in her family. Turns out mom found FACES at the location where she gave birth.

Isury was full of energy. She recognized the doctors in blue from last year and didn't let them forget it. Her surgery was very successful! Here's a image from her surgery.

Second up today was Over. At 19 years old he's one of the older patients this week. He came in for cleft pallet.

And as you can see we all need to talk little naps when we can...
Here's Brian.

Our last patient was Milagros. She became friends with some of the staff since she spent time here last year for her pallet surgery. She's had lip and pallet done in the past and today she will have her nose reconstructed to enable better breathing. Milagros has been working on speech therapy with FACES contact here in Peru, Delia. She's been re-learning to speak her naive language and also taking on the task of learning English. "She's been doing wonderfully" reports Delia and will continue to improve because of her hard work. Thanks to FACES her confidence has grown and now she is helping parents understand what their children are going through. I've caught glimpses of her chatting with parents in the waiting room. What a godsend she is!

Here she is going into surgery...

And the final shot is from Christina, the anesthesiologist.

Thanks so much for reading the past few days! We're officially half way through the weeks cases. Stay tuned for more!

Big smiles... for me and the kids too!
Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo

FACES Peru Trip | Day 3

It's the end of day 3 and there have been 5 successful cases and one drop in that's actually still in the OR as I type. There are 17 scheduled cases for this week (5 have been completed) and if anyone happens to drop in then the surgeons will chat and see if they can add him in the schedule. And that's the way it goes!

I'd love for you to meet Erika...
Erika arrived with her aunt to the clinic early Sunday morning. This little 12 year old raises goats on her family farm with her father and her aunt. Because Erika's family lives out in the country the nearest school is too far away to travel and therefore attended only two years because of the distance. She spends her days helping her family raise the goats.

My heart went out for Erika. She was the second patient Sunday and was at the clinic at 10am when the first patient, Yessica, went in for surgery. Erika waited for a little over 3 hours and I'm sure the 12 year old was. I know I would be. Even as a patient back home I would wonder what takes doctors so long?!? But now I understand a little bit better how the inter workings work. In reality, in life, in the OR somethings just take time. I'm sure I'll be a little more patient next time I go in to get my check up.

Erika got to go home today as did Yessica. They both had successful surgeries.

Here's my favorite patient from today. Meet Evelyn and her mom!

Evelyn is 7 months old and has cleft lip. She arrived early this morning in her mothers arms. Here she is being carried into surgery with some of the doctors.

After about a hour and a half surgery is complete.

After surgery the patient is placed in a recovery room to be monitored while he/she wakes up. At that time the parents are invited to come in and see their child. Here is mom comforting Evelyn.

It makes me so happy to see the before and after within a few hours. It's awing. There have been 5 successful cases thus far on this trip. I'm excited to meet tomorrow's patients!

Big Smiles, Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo.

FACES Peru Trip | Day 2

Today is the first day in the OR. Armed with nerves I arrived after the first patient was all prepped and ready to go. Yessica and her family traveled over 24 hours to come to the clinic for her pallet surgery. Traveling by bus, back of trucks and walking, her mother, father and sister all made the trip. During the consultation with the parents Yessica's Father said he was so thankful. He continued saying, his daughter would have never been able to have the surgery because he, as a father, cannot provide enough food for his family yet alone surgery for his daughter. To admit that must have put a wrench in his gut, but also let us know how extremely thankful he and his family were for what was about to happen.

As the shy girl entered the OR wrapped in Tammy's arms I could tell she was nervous. Soon she was put under and the process began. Let me interject Yessica's story for a moment to admit it would be the first time for me to be in the OR to watch surgery. Period. I have to say I was nervous, nut not as jittery as I would have expected myself to be. Secretly I was hoping my camera would act as a buffer or my adrenalin would kick into high gear as I stepped into the room. Albeit, I cannot give you technical specs or fancy medical terms, however, I can give you my account of her time here.

Yessica's surgery lasted 3 hours. It's quite a interesting process and thankfully I was able to gain access from the top observing room which is situated directly above the operating table. Having a birds eye view was perfect for many reasons, but mainly being able to have the visibility from above. The mouth is a small place to operate and there are already a lot of people in the room! Aaaaand it also gave me a buffer as what to expect when I entered the room myself. After spending a good 15 minutes up there at the beginning of the surgery. Feeling brave I ventured back downstairs, convinced someone to come in with me just in case I fainted. Armed with my camera and fake confidence I entered the room to find a much calmer situation than I expected. I was careful not to touch any of what they call "green space" and photographed the team at work. I know everyone has their jobs and responsibilities, instruments and such, but was I amazed to be in the OR and to see how seamless everyone was working together. Most of the team has met one another just a few days prior and is now functioning like a well oiled engine. Yessica's pallet was very wide as I was told. What the surgeons ended up doing was cut the roof of the mouth along the upper molars on both sides, then stretch it across the middle to fill the hole, and then tack the incisions by the molars back together while including something to stimulate the re-growth by the upper molars. During surgery I was able to get up on a step stool and look directly into her mouth to photograph the actual surgery. Gotta love that fake courage cause I did fine. No fainting for me and the process was intriguing.

As Yessica's operation carried on I noticed one thing out of place in the OR room. It sat at between her feet and acted as her little guardian... a teddy bear. At 13 years old she's still a child, but with this surgery hopes to hold the confidence of a adult.

Going into surgery....

More tomorrow!
Big Smiles! Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo.

FACES Peru Trip | Day 1

We've made it. 3 flight zero sleep and 24 hours later the we have made it to Chiclayo. A place where the people use their vehicle horns more then New Yorkers.

As an observer and first timer on this trip it's been quite interesting watching the team take on their roles in the clinic. Each person came over with a personal bag and a bag double that size of medical supplies. It's been quite amazing to see all the equipment needed to make these surgeries possible.

Saturday morning we arrived at our hotel, which is a beautiful place tucked away off the street. Delia, FACES contact here in Peru, did a fabulous job! After we arrived we ate a quick breakfast and were given "free time" AKA "nap time" which everyone gladly took advantage of. At this point any flat surface would do– I was beat! After a few hours we all grabbed our bags and headed over to the clinic to set everything up, understand our surroundings and make sure to had all the medical supplies needed. There are 3 main rooms we will be using– the OR, the recovery and the extra storage/computer work area. It's quite interesting to see the ins and outs of the medical situations... more on that to come. Oh, and by the way– nothing like the shows on TV.

Currently it's Sunday morning, the first day of surgeries and the team is excited to get this ball rolling. I can't wait to share my first day of surgeries with you. Wish me luck and a strong stomach!

Oh, and the people here are nothing but generous, kind, and loving. They completely go out of the way to help.

Here is the team trekking the medical supplies to the clinic just a few short blocks from our hotel.

The front of the clinic.

A birds eye view of the OR

Jeff giving a overview.

And side street right next to the clinic

Thanks everyone for reading. I hope to post daily here in Chiclayo.
Happy day and big smiles. Melissa Tomeoni with Soul Mates Photo.