One of every 500-750 children worldwide is born with a facial deformity known as a cleft lip or cleft palate. If left untreated, the condition can result in social isolation and serious health concerns, such as malnutrition and infection. There is a clear need for increasing surgical care for cleft conditions.
While cleft conditions can almost always be reversed, many impoverished and/or rural families are unable to access affordable care in order to get their children the necessary medical attention. Operation Smile believes that all patients deserve exceptional surgical care regardless of where they are born or how much money their families make.
Operation Smile has been executing life-saving surgical procedures for children around the world for over 35 years. Their advocacy efforts expounding the importance of increasing surgical care for cleft conditions have touched millions. Consequently, their donor base continues to grow. In the month of July, the organization has plans to execute several medical missions in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Tame, Columbia and Ambato, Ecuador, to name a few.
Beyond the numbers, Operation Smile prides itself on personable and compassionate care. CEO and founder Dr. Bill Magee asks of his donors, “What if this was your child who needed the surgery?” He notes how this consideration makes people realize that the work he does not only rewarding but absolutely necessary.
Adding to the personal nature of the organization, it focuses on individual stories of patients and their families both before and after the life-altering surgery.
The healing story of Siham, a young girl from Morroco, demonstrates just how difficult overcoming the social obstacles of looking different than your peers can be. Every time she left her house, people tormented her in the streets. After only a few weeks of school, Siham dropped out because of the bullying she had endured. Doctors informed her that surgery was possible, but Siham knew that her family would never be able to afford the travel expenses to reach the hospital, let alone the procedure itself.
Stories like Siham’s touch readers at a personal level and help increase the reach of the organization’s successes.
Powered by its compassionate donors and volunteers, Operation Smile has provided hundreds of thousands of free cleft condition surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries. This care has grown exponentially since its beginning in 1982. One element that makes this organization unique from many other medical nonprofits is that it works within the local community’s health providers and cultural norms rather than independently to provide comfortable care for their patients. Each mission is different. Some require importing medical equipment and others need local expertise.
While the root cause of cleft conditions is not yet clear, Operation Smile and other organizations are researching ways to prevent the deformity. For over 30 years, the nonprofit has grown its donor and volunteer bank exponentially. In addition, it has gained valuable experience in unique areas by teaming up with local medical programs in developing countries.
The success of Operation Smile in increasing surgical care for cleft conditions lies in its sustainable practices. They involve local community volunteers and emphasize the importance of donations to fund the services rather than charging patients. The organization benefits everyone involved and will likely continue to grow.
– Sarah Coiro