Photographer by day...

   We all had that moment as kids; we were finally old enough to comprehend what we wanted to do with our lives and vaguely what it took to get there. It was that first true understanding of what these “Dreams” & “Goals” our teachers kept talking about. And in this moment, we are THE MOST motivated. Nothing would get in our way, no matter how hard, no matter who told us we would not be able to. Right then and there, our mind was (probably for the very first time) playing out a scenario that, maybe on some other timeline, wasn’t entirely impossible. 
I wanted to be a cardio thoracic surgeon. 
   I suppose my dreams were pretty farfetched for anyone, becoming a surgeon takes an insane amount of years just to complete education. That was everyone’s first thought when I would tell them that. I guess my first thought was always, I wanted to do something that I felt mattered. After quite a few surgeries myself, I suppose they mattered a bit differently than most people.  
   Life happens, plans change, and here I am standing in an operating room, not as the lead surgeon, but rather as the person helping these moments go down in history. Recording a moment that will forever be a pivotal moment in this child’s live; it felt like I was doing something that mattered. 
   I met with Dr. Vuthy Sar of the Neak Tep Clinic in Siem Reap, Cambodia where, little did I know, I would be given the opportunity that would undoubtedly change my life too. I was given scrubs and a few simple directions before we started operating on the first patient. The process felt eerily familiar to the posts from mothers I read on social media. I may not speak Khmer, but I could feel the mothers hesitation to hand her baby off in the arms of a man she only met a few hours prior. The tears came from the same place. The father’s grimace and firm stance (emotional in his own way) came to sound like the same story. It felt a bit like every story I had imagined in my head while being told them was happening in front of me. There are some other struggles in Cambodia that most won’t be able to empathize completely with, but I know if this woman had the ability to communicate with you all, she would have maybe had a little easier of a day. So keep it up, always. It matters. 
   I think maybe that is another reason I find this community to be so special. I love to read the comments of a new mothers post when she logs into a cleft support group of some kind. While every story is unique, everyone who has been through it feels this desire to be there for the next woman. It’s powerful and the definition of compassion. You inspire me. 


   I took this trip knowing that I would need help from my friends at Smile Train to connect me with the part of the community I would not be able to reach via the internet. Immediately Troy Reinhart (Vice President of Smile Train) got back to me with contacts and a few options he had come up with. After a few weeks of emails, I had come to the conclusion that I was to ditch the idea of Vietnam and head to Cambodia where they could help me maximize my experience. Without their determination to help, none of this would have been possible. 
Check out Smile Train here:
  A million thank you to my friends at Smile Train, Dr. Vuthy Sar, and all of the patients who left a mark on my heart during my week in Siem Reap. 

Zachary Rodetis-Urenda