I don’t want to skip our wonderful parent talks on Wednesday (even though I am safely back in New York now) because these talks were a highlight of our trip.
The hospital graciously gave us the emergency department auditorium (really a classroom) and helped get the word out that we would be speaking with parents on Wednesday afternoon. When we got there, we had 15 or 20 family members whose loved ones had just undergone palate surgery. We were able to answer questions about feeding, speech and language development, and to teach about developing oral airflow for speech. The audience members hung on our every word…it was obvious that they had not received much information in the past about their child’s clefts, and what the surgery entailed. We fielded many questions about how to best move forward after surgery.
When I say “we” I mostly mean Marianella, of course. She is a native speaker of Spanish. In general, people welcomed my efforts at speaking, although nobody would mistake me for a fluent speaker. You’ll have to buy me a glass of wine to hear about all the faux pas I made this week. Many of them are now preserved on videotape in Peru.
As we started to wrap up with this first group of parents, we saw our volunteer extraordinaire, Lourdes, arrive with another 15 or 20 parents! She had rounded up all the family members of the babies who were having lip surgery that day or the next day. We then ran another session targeted to these parents of younger babies. For the ones whose babies would need palate surgery later, we talked about how to practice good speech habits now to establish oral airflow later. These lessons were all followed up on an individualized basis when we rounded on the wards, as discussed in another post.
We were proud of our parent talks, and gave each other some pats on the back, but we knew we had made a real contribution when everyone we met for the next two days said, “I heard your parent meetings were amazing! The parents can’t stop talking about you!” Now we are thinking about how we will formalize this piece of the puzzle on future trips, so that parents get what they need as a group as well as individually.
At some point during the parent talks, Helen was led out of the room by a bunch of volunteers and parents. What was that about? Turns out she was in the hallway, giving therapy to a sibling of one of the babies who received surgery. This youngster had a stutter and of course had never been treated for it. While she was there in the hallway, I think she treated 2 or 3 siblings for speech and language problems unrelated to clefts. There are no SLP’s working in schools, and few can afford private pay speech services, so our expertise was really in demand all week.
Another word about Lourdes: this young woman, a small but mighty bundle of energy, worked tirelessly to find the patients and bring them to Lima. She was so committed to this, that 20 people slept and ate at her house all week. She used her personal vacation time so she could be free to shuttle people back and forth and stay at the hospital as much as possible. When I say we could not have done it without her, it is no exaggeration. Hats off to Lourdes and all the unsung volunteers who make these mission trips happen.