A group of Austin doctors is set to leave for El Salvador on Saturday to perform lip or cleft palate repair surgeries on children, free of charge.
The reason Austin Smiles goes to Latin American countries, like El Salvador, every year is because children there are roughly two times more likely to be born with cleft or lip palates than children in the U.S.
This is the reason why we don't hear or see a lot of stories about children with lip or cleft palates in the U.S: they're not big problems here.
But in Mexico, they are. That's where Austin Smiles visited last year. The Cravens were there too.
"It makes you think, what can I do to help these other families, these other children that weren't as fortunate that don't have access to the type of care that we have in the United States?" asked Dr. Cameron Craven.
Dr. Cameron Craven is a plastic surgeon with Westlake Dermatology. He went on that trip to Veracruz, Mexico last year where he performed dozens of cleft and lip palate surgeries on children. Dr. Craven said these surgeries aren't just to fix a smile.
After surgery, Dr. Craven says children can eat better or they perform better at school because teachers can understand what they are saying. But, in extreme cases, if some of these children don't get the surgeries, it can be the worst case scenario.
"Many of these children will go on to die from malnutrition or be ostracized from the community," said Dr. Craven.
Nicole Craven is a registered nurse and Dr. Craven's wife.
"It was amazing," Mrs. Craven described the Veracruz, Mexico trip.
She said these trips have been rewarding to see first hand how they have helped so many families.
"It was nice to give back and to actually change their lives," said Mrs. Craven.
The families who qualify for the surgeries are grateful. In a video by Austin Smiles, those same families clapped for volunteers who walked by during last year's trip.
But in that same video, smiles from parents and the little ones may just be the best thanks after all.
On Feb. 17, Austin Smiles will leave on its 46th medical mission to San Salvador, El Salvador. Around 47 doctors are expected to be part of the medical team. That team is expected to operate on approximately 50 children.
In Austin Smiles' 30 year history, it has served more than 2700 patients.