The mission of HUGS (Help Us Give Smiles) is to deliver free medical care to children and adolescents challenged by microtia, cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. Since its establishment in 2003, HUGS has accomplished more than 30 missions around the world. Dr. RJ Ramamurthi, a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, has served as a HUGS volunteer for several years.

Dr. Pandora Chua, chief resident in the Department of Anesthesia, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, joined Dr. Ramamurthi and thirty team members from across the country on their mission trip to Antigua, Guatemala in September 2018. The trip consisted of one screening day followed by five days of surgery. The HUGS team ran five operating rooms per day (three for microtia, two for cleft lip/palates) and performed a total of 76 surgical cases. Dr. Chua and Dr. Ramamurthi served as the pediatric anesthesia team for one of the operating rooms. In total they performed anesthesia for 22 two cleft lip and/or palate repairs or revisions for children, from 5-kilogram infants to teenagers!

Ensuring high-quality patient care for surgical mission trips requires complex choreography and a commitment to consistency, from following up with patients to building relationships with local staff. The experience of working in a resource-limited environment makes any anesthesiologist a more adaptable and compassionate physician who better appreciates our global common humanity and the interconnected determinants of health. The trip gave Drs. Chua and Ramamurthi a spark of energy and left me with a spirit of humility, reciprocity, and solidarity that has lasted long after we returned home.

HUGS is based in Rochester, New York. The Rochester local news station sent a reporter and cameraman with us on the trip, and they recently released Journey for a Smile, a six-part miniseries about the HUGS Guatemala trip. Enjoy!

In the News

  • – WHAM

    Journey for a smile: The whole team

    (WHAM) - A P. S. to our reports from Guatemala. These are the people who volunteered their time, even paid their way, for last month's 31st HUGS mission. HUGS was founded by Rochester surgeon Dr Vito Quatela in 2003 to help children with facial deformities. Next year, there will be five missions: two weeks in Guatemala, and one each in Ecuador, Peru and Vietnam. For more information about HUGS, click here. The full five-part series about this trip to Guatemala can be seen below.

  • – WHAM

    Someone You Should Know: Dr. Vito Quatela

    On our trip to Guatemala last month, every "someone" we met had a story worth telling. We traveled with the Rochester-based HUGS Foundation and met dozens of wonderful Guatemalan families, many of whom traveled hours by bus hoping the HUGS team would be able to repair their child's cleft lip or other facial deformity. At the end of the mission, 76 children had had a life-changing operation.

  • – WHAM

    Journey for a smile: The patients and families

    (WHAM) - There are more than 1,500 children in Guatemala who have benefited from the work of the the HUGS (Help Us Give Smiles) Foundation, which was started in Rochester in 2003. The founder, plastic surgeon Dr. Vito Quatela, leads three missions each year, including one in Guatemala. HUGS mission teams are all volunteer.

  • – WHAM

    Journey for a smile: Surgery day for HUGS team

    (WHAM) - When we went along with the Rochester-based HUGS team to Guatemala last month, the volunteers had a long to-do list. The doctors and nurses, with support from other volunteers, performed more than 75 surgeries on children with cleft lips and palates, and microtia, a deformity of the ear. Wednesday's story focuses on how they manage their time on those surgery days, and how they've learned to expect the unexpected. For more information on HUGS, click here.

  • – WHAM

    The HUGS Team Keeps Giving Back

    (WHAM) - The doctors and nurses on a HUGS mission pay their own way to work hard for a week in Guatemala, one of Central America's poorest countries. And yet, they say, it's not a sacrifice. "It's a benefit I tell you," said Dr. Neal Goldman, a surgeon from North Carolina. "Don't kid yourself, I gain from this much more than I lose. No question about it. " Dr.