OPERATION SMILE. Officials of 'Operation Smile' surgical mission hold a press conference after providing free cleft palate/cleft lip surgeries to 131 patients in Cebu. Gracing the gathering on Friday (Feb. 22, 2019) are (from left) Operation Smile Philippines executive director Angel Mojica, MSY Charitable Foundation Inc. chairperson Mariquita Salimbangon-Yeung (MSY), Operation Smile Global co-founder and CEO Dr. William Magee, International Family Study project manager Frederick Brindopke, and MSYCFI medical director and vice president Dr. Vivina Chiu. (Photo by Luel Galarpe)
CEBU CITY -- More than 130 children and adults have received free cleft palate or cleft lip reconstructive surgeries from “Operation Smile” volunteer doctors since Monday in this city.
"Operation Smile" Philippines executive director Angel Mojica said in a press conference Friday that 252 patients were screened last week and 175 passed the process, but they were only able to accommodate 131.
“However, we will be coming back next year to operate on those who were not accommodated this year,” Mojica said.
Although they were unable to accommodate some of the patients, Mojica said they still surpassed their target number of 120 beneficiaries by 11.
“Operation Smile” beneficiaries this year were children as young as 6 months old and some adults – the oldest was a 49-year-old male patient, whose mother reportedly failed to recognize her son after the 45-minute operation.
Mojica also said some of the patients were from Mindanao (Surigao, Dipolog, and Cagayan de Oro) and neighboring provinces in the Visayas including Leyte and Negros Oriental.
Operation Smile Global co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Dr. William Magee said this year’s Cebu surgical mission team is composed of 66 volunteers consisting of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, dentists, nurses, and students from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, and the Philippines.
Magee, an American plastic and craniofacial surgeon, said “Operation Smile” started its annual missions in Cebu in 1998 in collaboration with the Mariquita Salimbangon-Yeung Charitable Foundation Inc. (MSYCFI).
Since then, the partnership of the two organizations has brought hope and healing to thousands of children and adults not only from Cebu but also from its neighboring provinces, cities, and municipalities.
“Children with facial deformities brought us (Operation Smile and MSYCFI) together. For the past 21 years, over 6,000 cleft patients have benefited from our gift of free surgery performed by ‘Operation Smile’ volunteers here in Cebu,” Magee said.
“Imagine, after only 45 minutes, you can see the change in a child’s life,” the ‘Operation Smile’ co-founder and CEO added.
Most of the children with cleft lip and cleft palate, Magee said, don’t go out of their houses and refuse to go to school for fear of being ridiculed and humiliated.
He said one in 500 children in the Philippines are born with a cleft lip or cleft palate and have no access to surgical care due to lack of financial resources.
“This is why ‘Operation Smile’ provides free surgeries, especially to children, to restore dignity and hope as well as to improve the patient’s health and well-being,” Magee said.
For her part, MSYCFI founding chairman Mariquita Salimbangon-Yeung said they will continue bringing "Operation Smile" surgical missions to Cebu for as long as there are children suffering from cleft lip and palate.
“As long as there are still children with cleft lip and cleft palate problems in Cebu, we will not stop carrying out ‘Operation Smile’ surgical missions,” Yeung said.
Last year, nearly 500 volunteers conducted ‘Operation Smile’ missions in nine sites in the Philippines and carried out regular surgeries in three cleft centers located in Manila, Pampanga, and Davao City.
"Operation Smile" Philippines also performed reconstructive surgeries on 745 out of 1,183 patients evaluated in 2018. (PNA)