Spotlight Moment - July 2016
Operation Smile is an international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities. It is one of the oldest and largest volunteer-based organizations dedicated to improving the health and lives of children worldwide through access to surgical care.
"The teamwork one experiences on such a mission is remarkable. The kinships made memorable, and the lives that are changed, forever moving. To watch a mother cry as she holds her child for the first time in the PACU, to see a child kiss their parent for the first time in their life, and to heal humanity one smile at a time gives back to you much more than you give of yourself. To offer a child a chance to succeed in life, and to change their future is a gift that keeps giving. I hold each of the children I have helped in my heart, and will never forget them. "
Medical volunteers repair childhood facial deformities and burn contractures while building public and private partnerships that advocate for sustainable healthcare systems for children and families. To date, Operation Smile has treated more than 100,000 children and young adults worldwide, and currently has programs in 25 countries to include Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gaza Strip/West Bank, Honduras, India, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
While in Kenya, I worked as a post op nurse on a post op floor, although on previous trips I have also volunteered in the PACU. Generally, trips include a group of 4 PACU nurses, 5 Operating Room Nurses, and 6 post op nurses; however many of these nurses are often times from the country you are visiting. Operation Smile draws upon a worldwide network of thousands of volunteer plastic surgeons, dentists, nurses, anesthesiologists, speech pathologists, child life specialists, and medical technicians. Teams of volunteers from all over the world are sent on two-week missions and work beside their local counterparts sharing knowledge and skills. It is Operation Smiles mission to groom self-sufficiency in the countries they provide care.
The work is hard, and the hours are long. Typical days run 16 hours, even while suffering jet lag. While working on the post op floor, it is common to have as many fifty patients a day to be responsible for, in somewhat of a chaotic environment. Patients often share cots to sleep in, and on previous missions to Vietnam, they have slept on concrete floors. Post op pain is treated with Tylenol and Motrin, even for extensive burn surgeries. The post op unit in Kenya did not have sinks to wash your hands, nor bathrooms for patients or staff. It is not uncommon to work alongside lizards, ants, cockroaches, and even chickens. The cuisines of many of these countries are equally as adventurous. Nonetheless, in my experience, I have never found work more gratifying or fulfilling.
Operation Smile is an international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities. It is one of the oldest and largest volunteer-based organizations dedicated to improving the health and lives of children worldwide through access to surgical care. Since 1982, Operation Smile has developed expertise in mobilizing volunteer medical teams to conduct surgical missions in resource-poor environments while adhering to the highest standards of care and safety.
Operation Smile helps to fill the gap in providing access to safe, well-timed surgeries by partnering with hospitals, governments and ministries of health, training local medical personnel, and donating much-needed supplies and equipment to surgical sites around the world. Founded and based in Virginia, U.S., Operation Smile has extended its global reach to more than 60 countries through its network of credentialed surgeons, pediatricians, doctors, nurses, and student volunteers.