They came from New Jersey and New Mexico, Kansas and Kentucky, Colorado, Utah and Texas. For most, it took three flights and a full day of travel to reach Ecuador. By midnight, all 16 members of the Healing the Children Southwest (HTCWS) mission—six of them nurses—had arrived. They were not a light-traveling bunch. In addition to their personal luggage, they brought 32 large bags packed with surgical supplies, anesthesia gas, medications, clothing, toys and other items to donate.
Early the next morning, the bags were loaded onto a bus, and by 7 a.m., the group—most of them strangers—had settled in, alternately chatting and napping, for the five-and-a-half-hour ride to BahÃa de CarÃ¡quez. They headed out of the sprawling city of Guayaquil on highways bearing the scars of the devastating floods that had recently hit the country. As highways gave way to roads, concrete buildings, run-down stores and ramshackle homes, some made from a patchwork of materials, dotted the lush landscape. Vendors hawked their wares, children played and dogs ran on dirt roads that sprouted off the main drag. On occasion, a parade of livestock brought the bus to a standstill.
At 2 p.m., they arrived at the Hospital Miguel H. AlcÃvar. “Then we hit the ground running,” says nurse Linda Harper. Team members took up their assignments, conducting patient evaluations, setting up the ORs and recovery rooms, entertaining restless kids and calming anxious family members. More than half the children evaluated that day were scheduled for surgery, some were put on a waiting list, others were given referrals or explanations as to why surgery was unnecessary. “We also identified two children we plan to bring to the U.S. for very complicated, multiple-stage, facial reconstructive surgery,” says Roberta Krehbiel, the medical team coordinator for the southwest chapter of Healing the Children (HTCSW). From the bridge of his nose down, it’s a mismatched canvas, no symmetry in sight. But his soulful eyes held the attention of anyone who really looked, with a captivating gaze.