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Taking Families from Heartbreak to Wholeness

Austin Smiles exists to:

  • Deliver necessary support services to children and families in Central Texas affected by orofacial clefts (cleft lip and/or cleft palate), and to
  • Provide free primary surgical treatment and ongoing comprehensive care to children with orofacial clefts in Latin America where we are able to serve
  • Provide surgical treatment to adults in Central Texas living with issues related to unrepaired orofacial clefts

Because It's Too Easy to Forget

Not so long ago, most children in this country who were born with orofacial clefts faced lifetimes of extreme hardship. Within the past few decades, we as a society have made it a priority to get these children and their families the help they need, regardless of ability to pay. So we tend to forget how devastating it can be when a child with an orofacial cleft can’t get treatment at all.

In much of Latin America children with untreated orofacial clefts are still subject to these hardships, such as ridicule and ostracism over their disfigurement, along with eating and breathing issues that prevent them from thriving as other children would.

 

Families of these children often live in rural areas where formal education is limited and old prejudices die hard. So in addition to the real health and developmental impacts of their conditions, these children are objects of fear and discrimination from their communities. The afflicted child is often accused of being a source of divine punishment or impending misfortune for the family—or even the entire village or community.

Imagine it: through no fault of their own, these children are consigned to a life where their mere appearance causes them to be reviled, feared, ridiculed and ostracized. It is not uncommon for such children to become shut-ins, prisoners in their own homes, often into adulthood and throughout their whole lives.

Helping Children Here

Here in Central Texas, we provide case management support for children with orofacial cleft and their families. Primary medical care is provided by the Cleft Team at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. We ensure that the patients and their families have the other kinds of support they need.

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Helping Children Abroad

Most of our fundraising efforts support our medical missions to select sites in Latin America. For parents in these areas whose children are born with orofacial clefts, corrective surgery and follow-up care is out of reach, literally and financially. The cost of treatment is far beyond the means of most parents, and health insurance or sources of financial aid are scarce. Even if money were not an object, in most cases the necessary healthcare facilities and personnel to treat orofacial clefts simply don’t exist in these communities.

To mount these missions, we must purchase, maintain and replace a large inventory of medical supplies. Transporting what amount to a full surgical field hospital is an enormous and expensive undertaking. Then, too, we must provide transportation and housing for our U.S. volunteer medical and support staff.

Comprehensive treatment of orofacial cleft nearly always involves multiple surgeries, starting from shortly after birth, and often lasting into young adulthood. So we commit to making annual or semi-annual missions to the same locations for years on end.

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Advancing Education

Austin Smiles established The Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Speech-Language Pathology at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997. This endowment allows bilingual graduate students in speech-language pathology at UT’s College of Communication to accompany us on medical missions. There, students work closely with professional speech pathologists to design the appropriate curriculum and exercises for children with orofacial clefts, and work closely with the family to train them in assisting the child.

About Orofacial Clefts
What Happens on a Mission?