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New smiles for Filipino cleft patients

Young Efren shows confidence in his smile after receiving surgery from one of the missions of Operation Smile in the country.  OPERATION SMILE

MANILA, Philippines — More than 200 cleft patients in the Philippines were added to thousands whose newfound smiles were made possible by an international non-government organization ‘Operation Smile.’

The organization offered quality surgical care for Filipinos born with cleft lip or cleft palate in the provinces of Isabela and Cavite from Aug. 18 to 26.

The mission was just one of a significant number that the organization has conducted since 1982, when American plastic surgeon Dr. Bill Magee and his wife Kathy, a nurse and clinical social worker, first set foot on Naga City together with a group of medical volunteers to repair the deformities of cleft patients.

Joanna Ehrlich, Operation Smile program coordinator, said the organization was born when they were moved by the overwhelming need of Filipinos for surgery after they visited Naga City but were unable to take care of all the patients. Before leaving the city, the team promised that they would come back to carry out more safe surgeries.

In their website, organization president Kathy Magee shared that Operation Smile offers these surgeries for free because if they do not do it, no one else would.

“If we don’t care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will,” Magee was quoted as saying.

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Gina Mapindan, mother of five-year old cleft patient Angel Marie, was only too grateful for the assistance. According to her, without the foundation, there’s no assurance of any surgical operation for her child.

“Mahirap lang kami kaya nagpapasalamat ako na dumating sila kasi kung kami lang, hindi namin sigurado kung maipapaayos namin ang bingot ng anak ko (We are a family of simple means and that’s why we are thankful that they came. If it were up to us, we could not possibly guarantee that she will have the operation,” she said.

Doctors and nurses joined volunteers from all over the world who helped for the duration of the mission.

American volunteers Florisbeth Joseph and Rebecca McCormack said they were so glad to be given the chance to serve Filipinos in need of help.

Meanwhile, Ehrlich said that their missions do not accept anything in return. For her and the whole team, the joy on the faces of parents when they see their child smiling happily and with confidence is enough reward.

“It’s so hard to describe because patients will come to us with a cleft on their face but in about 45 minutes, we’re able to give them a whole new smile. It’s just incredible! But I think the most beautiful moment is when the mother or father comes back to the recovery room and sees the child for the first time. That’s really where the magic is because they’ve never seen their child with a full smile, that’s why it’s very special for us,” she said.

Now on its 35th year, Operation Smile continues to add more individuals to their list of patients who are making the world better one smile at a time.

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