A total of 1,219 indigent Filipino children ended 2012 happier after successfully undergoing free reconstructive surgery to repair their facial deformities, mainly cleft lips and cleft palates, performed by volunteer surgeons of Operation Smile.
The children were treated during the medical mission conducted by Operation Smile from October 25 to December 1, 2012 in Naga, Angeles, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Dasmarinas, General Santos, Koronadal, Manila and Silay. In Koronadal, a joint Operation Smile-Dental Seminars and Missions of Belgium team of volunteer dentists also provided free dental treatments to 6,110 indigents with oral health problems.
Operation Smile, headquartered in Virginia, U.S.A., is the world’s largest volunteer-based charity dedicated to cleft care. It has a corps of volunteers from 80 countries and a permanent presence in 60 countries including the Philippines. It mounted the month-long, nine-city medical mission to mark the global celebration of the 30th anniversary of its founding in Naga City by American plastic surgeon, William Magee, and his wife Kathleen, a pediatric nurse.
Dubbed “The Journey Home” to reflect the organization’s Philippine roots, the medical mission was by far Operation Smile’s biggest in the country, involving 1,000 volunteers from 37 countries, including 700 Filipinos and 14 tons of medical supplies and equipment shipped from the U.S.
“We meant this mission as a way for the world to thank the Filipino people, whose warmth, openness and caring character inspired us to organize Operation Smile,” the Magees said, adding that in the three decades since, more than 200,000 children from six continents, including more than 25,000 Filipinos, have received free reconstructive surgery.
The Magees made a symbolic and sentimental trip to Naga City, where they met Deocel “Deo” Cledera, their first patient on their very first mission in the city. Now 37 years old and a provincial government employee, Deo visited the mission site just to personally thank the Magees. It turned out that after having his cleft lip repaired in 1982, Deo never got a chance to return the following year for a second surgery on his cleft palate. He got his second operation 30 years after, with Dr. Magee performing the surgery himself.
In Manila, the Magees had a reunion with another cleft palate patient from 15 years ago, Chadleen Lacdo-o, who is now an accomplished singer and a finalist in a reality television talent search competition. In Silay City, May Klaire Parparan, who had her cleft lip repaired 18 years ago and is now a nurse, dropped by to see them. In Cebu City, they met a Russian, Grisha, a former cleft lip and cleft palate patient 17 years ago, who is now an anesthesiologist taking part in The Journey Home mission as a volunteer.
“Coming face to face with these former cleft patients whose lives have been transformed by Operation Smile strengthened our commitment to carry on our work,” shared Roberto Manzano, the president and executive director of Operation Smile Philippines.
Oral cleft is among the top 12 congenital defects in the Philippines and poses a serious health and social problem to the country. An estimated 4,000 or one in every 500 individuals are born every year with a harelip, cleft palate or both. If left untreated, some 10 percent will not live to see their first birthday; another 12 percent will die before reaching the age of five. Those who survive are at risk of facing a life of ridicule and shame.