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 organization behind the mission

    (WHAM) - A team of volunteers returned late last month from a medical mission to help children in Guatemala. They're part of a Rochester organization called HUGS. 13 WHAM News photojournalist John McClintock and I traveled with them, so we could show you what they do on these missions, and all the work that leads up to a trip. HUGS stands for Help Is Give Smiles, and it's a name that works. Maglendy Clemente Lopez brought her daughter to get help from the HUGS team on the most recent mission.