Patzun Mission Trip

Recently a team from Carolinas Center for Oral & Facial Surgery traveled to Patzun, Guatemala, where they teamed up with the Free to Smile Foundation and Tess Unlimited to provide corrective cleft and lip palate surgery on underprivileged children in the region. The team of doctors and volunteers spent five days working and donated all services to patients at no charge.

On the first day, the team screened approximately 65 families to make sure the children were healthy and ready for surgery. Throughout the rest of the week, the surgery schedules were stacked to help treat as many as possible. During this mission trip, the team performed a total of 49 surgeries (1 Bilateral Lip, 2 Bilateral Lip Revisions, 16 Unilateral Lips, 22 Palates and 8 Rhinoplasties).

The volunteers treat so much more than a cosmetic deformity. Cleft lip and palate can lead to severe malnourishment in young children. A 1-2 hour cleft repair surgery gives the child and their family new hope for a full, healthy, and happy life. In addition to benefitting the health of the individual, this work can also help bring change to the community. Often times, children with cleft and lip palate deformities are marginalized. They don’t go to school; therefore, they don’t get jobs and it perpetuates a cycle of poverty. Once they’ve been treated, these kids are able to focus on bettering themselves and being educated, which in turn, brings resources and education to the community at large.

In describing his time in Patzun, Lead Surgeon Dr. Rick Kapitan says, “It’s a gift to be able to do it. And, it’s something that we really don’t feel like we get to do enough.”

Free to Smile Foundation is a fully functional year-round nonprofit 501(c)(3) humanitarian organization. The foundation relies on individual donations to aid the impoverished communities they serve. To make a difference and help support Free to Smile, visit: