Just days before the COVID-19 pandemic was recognized in the U.S., the Global Smile Foundation (GSF) team was completing an outreach cleft care program in Guayaquil, Ecuador. GSF was able to quickly implement precautionary measures on the ground and still perform cleft surgeries for 55 patients. Thankfully, all volunteers, patients, and families were able to return home safe and healthy.
GSF now faced the challenge of conducting post-operative care during a global health crisis. Typically, the GSF Cleft Care Center in Guayaquil provides year-round care for patients and families, but the pandemic had forced the Center to close temporarily. We were able to partner with Fundaciòn Global Smile-Ecuador, our in-country sister organization that supports the GSF vision in Ecuador, to expand our Telehealth system to provide comprehensive patient care.
Video calling technology, paired with Fundaciòn Global Smile-Ecuador’s presence and network in the country, enabled GSF to make a smooth transition to telehealth. Our Ecuadorian team collaborated with our U.S.-based GSF team to provide care for patients from the March 2020 outreach program. As the pandemic continued and travel halted, GSF began using telehealth for patients at all program locations.
One of the many patients who benefitted from telehealth was Matias. Born with a severe cleft lip and palate, Matias had great difficulty feeding. He and his mother had fled their home in Venezuela due to violence and were living as refugees in Ecuador. Matias was malnourished and underweight when GSF and Fundaciòn Global Smile-Ecuador met him in early 2019. After a campaign to raise the necessary funds for his infant formula, our GSF volunteers were able to provide sustenance for Matias to grow and thrive. He was able to undergo his cleft lip repair at the end of that year.
Matias needed a second procedure to repair his cleft palate. Our team knew that this next surgery for Matias had to happen during the March 2020 program because of the complexity of his family’s status in Ecuador. Luckily, Matias was able to undergo his cleft palate repair. Telehealth enabled our teams to connect with his mother afterwards and monitor his progress.
Elsa Chahine, GSF’s post-doctoral research fellow, participated in the telehealth session with Matias and his mother. “It is important for us to follow-up with our patients regularly, especially after surgery. These parents trust us with the care of their children, and it is our duty to provide post-operative care and guidance,” she said.
GSF conducted several telehealth appointments with Matias, answering questions his mother’s questions and ensuring that Matias was doing well. We were also able to start speech therapy with him and will continue to provide care as he grows up.