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Vol. LX, No. 2
January 25, 2008

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‘Operation Smile’ Treats Facial Deformities in Kids

Before photo show the impact of Operation Smile. After photo show the impact of Operation Smile.

Before (l) and after photos show the impact of Operation Smile.

Back in November, to commemorate a quarter-century of providing new smiles, Operation Smile International launched the World Journey of Smiles, a multifaceted initiative aimed at increasing the number of children served each year. Around the world—on the same day, at the same local time—volunteers conducted 40 missions in 25 countries with the hope of treating an estimated 5,000 children with facial deformities. Some 4,149 children were reportedly treated during the event.

Operation Smile is a nonprofit volunteer medical services organization that provides free reconstructive surgery to children and young adults around the world suffering with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities.

Capt. Angela Martinelli of NIAAA, an Operation Smile nurse volunteer since 1993, joined a team in Santa Rosa de Copán, a town located in the western mountains of Honduras. The ruins of Copán, just 7 miles from the Guatemala border, are a designated World Heritage Site believed by archeologists to be the cultural center of the Maya world.

“Our first 2 days consisted of patient-screening and setting up the operating rooms, recovery room and pre/post-operative wards,” Martinelli said. During the mission, in addition to screening for eligibility, patients were offered the opportunity to participate in a study aimed at identifying genetic markers in candidates with a cleft lip and cleft palates and family members without the disorder.

“Our team provided free medical evaluations to 81 children,” Martinelli said. “Children presented with a variety of problems including primary cleft lips, cleft palates and the need for revisions of previously repaired lips and palates. Many of the children came from the surrounding area, but some traveled as many as 8 hours through the mountains.”

Of the 81 children, 61 were eligible for surgery and 59 received free reconstructive surgery for their deformities. Some were not eligible for surgery because of infections, pre-existing medical conditions or not meeting age and weight requirements.

“As an operating room nurse, I was responsible for setting up the operating suites,” Martinelli explained. “We occupied four operating beds and worked side-by-side with our Honduran counterparts. One patient who stood out for me was an adorable infant who had traveled approximately 8 hours with her parents through the mountains from Francisco Morazán, Honduras. This child had a unilateral cleft lip that was beautifully repaired by one of our Honduran surgeons.

“After 10 days and many laughs and tears, we accomplished our mission and also had a great deal of fun,” Martinelli said. “We made wonderful new friends with parents and children alike.” NIHRecord Icon

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