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With the support of UIS and HUS, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Medical Mission arrived in Bucaramanga to ‘give away smiles’.

At the Hospital Universitario de Santander (HUS) in Bucaramanga, a beacon of hope is lit with the arrival of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Medical Mission from the United States. Like a beacon of solidarity from distant lands and with the unwavering support of HUS and the Universidad Industrial de Santander (UIS), this team of ‘white-coat angels’ embarks from this Monday, as they have done for over three decades, on a journey of transformation, destined to ‘weave smiles’ where there were once tears, to rebuild dreams where despair once reigned… More than 300 stories witness the daily miracle that emerges when science joins love for one’s neighbor.

Stories like that of Ángel Samuel, who was born precisely to be an angel in his family. Early this Monday, Maritza, Ángel’s mother, arrived with her son in her arms, accompanied by her mother, María Isidora, at the Hospital Universitario de Santander. The little angel, although two years old, does not exceed 60 centimeters in height, has a cleft lip and palate, as well as some congenital limb malformations.

Mother, grandmother, and grandson were just one of those 300 families seeking to benefit from one of the 100 marathon surgical interventions that will be carried out over two weeks, by nearly 50 healthcare professionals from the United States, supported by personnel from HUS and UIS.

“I came to bring my grandson. Firstly, I thank God for this opportunity that they are giving to many people who need this; the child has a cleft lip and palate, we brought him to see what happens, first we trust in God who has placed the doctors and all this personnel, may God bless them greatly and wonderfully,” said doña María with hope that Ángel Samuel will be one of the beneficiaries.

This mission is a long-awaited and well-received visit for 38 years, as announced by the dean of the Faculty of Health at UIS, Lina María Vera Cala.

“Once again we have the mission of the Medical College of Wisconsin accompanying us in the city to perform reconstructive plastic surgeries on children, mainly, and adults with congenital malformations. At the moment, there is a list of around 270 people; today the mission will carry out all the consultations to sift and define who among them will be operated on; it will be around 80 to 100 surgeries during these two weeks, which implies an extremely intensive work of the entire medical team from Wisconsin, as well as the team here in Colombia, which is made up of our professors and students from the Medical Residency in Plastic Surgery at UIS and personnel from HUS.”

Doña Carmen Cecilia Orduz, Stephany’s mother, came from Berlín accompanied by her little one. They were also among the crowd waiting under white tents awaiting a “yes.” Stephany was benefited last year with the cleft lip intervention, and this year she goes for another hope, the operation on her cleft palate.

“This mission is very important because many times health services do not cover this, but here you come and they attend to you; when one does not have benefits to pay, they make life easier for you. Grateful for this mission,” said doña Carmen.

On the other hand, Juan Darío Alvear Rueda, head of Plastic Surgery at the Hospital and coordinator of the postgraduate program in Plastic, Aesthetic, and Reconstructive Surgery at UIS, explained how the painstaking selection process will be carried out.

“The mission begins today with medical evaluations where we will evaluate all the patients who are already registered, we expect to see approximately 300 patients. From tomorrow, the cases to be operated on day after day during these two weeks will begin to be selected, hoping to operate on around 100 patients if God permits, finishing the mission by March 1st.

“We will all be participating entities of HUS and UIS; our program leads the process, professors, teaching staff, residents are all working, seeing patients, helping, and entering surgeries. Thanks to all this cooperation, we can carry out this mission to a successful conclusion.”

Among the team that puts their heart into this mission is Donovan Sánchez, a plastic surgeon graduated from UIS who specifically trained in Wisconsin to be part of this marathon session.

Last year he had the opportunity to be, as part of his plastic surgery training, at the Medical College of Wisconsin where he shared with the different specialists who are now coming to Colombia, as well as with residents and specialists who have been in training at that important hospital. “We will see how we can integrate all that knowledge we have acquired during our training as plastic surgeons to give back to the most vulnerable population of northeastern Colombia, very grateful and happy that in 2024 they continue to support us and continue to count on this wonderful group.”

Julián Niño, manager of HUS, highlighted the importance of UIS in this mission. “UIS as a strategic ally of the University Hospital has a double rigor which is trying to maintain the academic levels of the mission and second, that transfer of capacities between the mission doctors and the University, seeking to attend to the most needy and help Santander and Wisconsin to have personnel with better capacity in plastic surgery issues”.

According to the director of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Medical Mission, Sonia Dumit Minkel, “for me, it is an honor to be back in Bucaramanga. God has been good and has granted me that we can continue working. We want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem; this year we have a very large group and with God’s help, we can do the best possible job.

“It is important to note that for the Mission, it is not about quantity, it is about quality; we transfer our operating room from the United States here and do exactly what is done there, and we bring most of the supplies. I think now we must go to work because many patients await us.”

The mission arrived with ‘suitcases’ full of hope where they not only carry surgical instruments but also the power of empathy and compassion, essential nutrients to heal bodies and souls. In each of the interventions they will perform over two weeks, not only physical wounds are closed, but paths to a full and dignified life are opened.

In the operating room, every movement of the medical team is a hope. In the end, not only scars are erased, but stories of resilience and overcoming of each little patient are engraved.