Dr William and Kathleen Magee pose with a beneficiary of Operation Smile years back during the celebration of the 30th year of the volunteer initiative that corrects facial deformities of children in 80 countries.
NAGA CITY: It all started with a woman giving a doctor a basket of bananas asking them to come back here even though her child with cleft palate was not among those operated to correct the congenital defect that affects one in every 500 children.
Dr William “Bill” Magee, who co-founded the Operation Smile, with his wife Kathleen narrated the emotional moment 30 years ago which touched and powered him to mobilize medical volunteers that had grown to 5,000 in 80 countries to correct children with cleft lip or palate.
“I would like to give you these bananas. It’s the only gift that I can give you. But I would like to give you a gift for trying to take care of my daughter,” Bill narrated the lines a mother whose eight-year -old daughter was not among those given the constructive operation on her cleft palate in 1982.
Bill said the woman’s child was turned away because they could only operate on 40 patients out of some 300 patients that came for constructive operation for lack of facilities.
The constructive operation which gives smile to the children with cleft lip and palate which became Operation Smile was started in 1982 here in Naga City in partnership with then Camarines Sur Gov. Felix Fuentebella. Since then, the medical mission to give free corrective operation to the children here spread to other countries.
Bill said they needed US$35,000 to come back which television evangelist Pat Robertson shouldered singlehandedly and started their first trip to come back to the Philippines which continues until now.
Kathleen, a nurse, recalled that Gov. Fuentebella went to Texas because his grandson had cancer and was receiving treatment there when the latter asked plastic surgeons if they could help him treat children with facial deformities back in Camarines Sur.
She said he asked Bill to be part of the team which included her because she had background in pediatric nursing in the first medical mission to correct cleft lip and palate.
Kathleen said she brought with her their eldest daughter who initiated fundraising campaign by organizing clubs in schools that had grown to some 900 all over the United States of America.
For the past 30 years, Operation Smile has performed more than 200,000 surgeries and more than two million medical evaluations of children afflicted with cleft lip and palate, of which 24,000 are Filipino children and 2,538 of them from Naga City.
Celebrating its 30th year, the Operation Smile targets to perform corrective operation to 4,500 children in nine sites in the Philippines from Oct 25-Dec 2 which involves 10 international missions and 1,000 volunteers.
Among the areas covered by Operation Smile this year include Koronadal, South Cotabato; Naga City in Camarines Sur; Angeles, Pampanga; Silay City, Negros Occidental; Cagayan de Oro City; Sta. Ana, Manila; Cebu City; and General Santos City.
Roberto J Manzano, president and executive director of Operation Smile Philippines, explained that oral cleft is among the top 12 congenital defects in the Philippines which afflict 4,000 Filipinos who are born with harelip, cleft palate or both.
“Unknown to many, the deformity contributes to the high infant mortality rate in developing countries. Data gathered by the Operation Smile showed that 10 percent of cleft children or 400 die before reaching their first birthday and 12 percent or 480 do not live past the age of five,” Manzano revealed.
He said the Philippines has no registry which he said might be remedied how Smart Communications and the Ateneo Java Wireless Center developed an application for Operation Smile Philippines to enable social workers to document cleft births and send the records to central database using mobile phone.
Manzano said they have tapped SPECTRUM, a non-governmental organization in Saranggani province to pilot the application. “If the test proves successful, Operation Smile will soon be made available to Android phones.”
He said Operation Smile has set up two cleft care centers, a permanent facility where volunteers can perform reconstructive surgeries or provide consultation services to cleft patients year-round, in Brokenshire Hospital in Davao City and Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila.
Manzano said the setting up of cleft care centers is through a public-private partnership (PPP) that the Operation Smile started to engage in the Philippines.
He said the Operation Smile is ready to partner with any reputable organization, be they public or private, local or international, to make cleft care readily available to those who can least afford it. –