Saturday, October 4, 2008

Operation Smile (Operacion Sonrisa) - Cali, Colombia - Oct 4


As many of you know (and now the rest do too), I've been involved with Operation Smile for the past eight years. I was on the board of the Seattle chapter, and am now a board member and treasurer of Operacion Sonrisa Panama.

Operation Smile is a worldwide organization that helps kids with facial deformities... mostly cleft lip and palette. We work with the poor, and all treatment is free. The organization is non-religious, and medical "missions" are strictly medical.

We never see kids like this in the US, Canada, or Europe because they tend to be treated when they are less than a year old. Yet a kid with a cleft lip and palette (basically a big hole in the roof of the mouth going into the nasal cavity) will have difficulty eating, drinking, and talking. Often they are shunned by the village. Yet in just an hour or two we are able to correct this terrible debility. It is truly miraculous!

One of the things that I am doing on this trip is meeting with the Operacion Sonrisa people in countries where we have operations to get ideas that we can use in Panama. It so happened that there was a mission in Cali, Colombia, as I was in the area so I was able to participate and observe. Following are some pictures from the mission.

It's always fun to help amuse the kids before surgery. Many of them have never been to the big city, and they are understandably nervous. I always bring along "Miguelito", my pet trained raccoon (ok, he is a puppet but don't tell him that... he thinks he is alive). He looks very real, and is always a big hit.

I also tend to spend some time in surgery (don't worry, they don't let me operate!) There always seems to be a few kids that the volunteers form a special bond with. This time "mine" was Omar. A great kid. One of the more satisfying things that I sometimes get to do is take the kids to surgery, and be with them while they are put under (and of course, watch the procedure). This time I got to accompany Omar.

Another one of my favorites was Marcos. As you can see, he is a very cute kid with a severe cleft lip and palette. His father is the casique (chief) of a local indigenous tribe and they had literally come to the city from the jungle for the surgery.

Marcos' surgery was complex. No matter how many times I've watched, I'm amazed how the surgeons can take what looks to me like a bunch of raw meat and create working parts of a mouth. Think about how many muscles it takes to move your lips and you'll appreciate the complexity of putting it back together.

Immediately after surgery you can see the difference. It will take some time for the swelling to go down, but this little fellow should be able to lead a normal life. And all this in a little over an hour!

Operation Smile is completely free for the kids we help. We rely strictly on donations. If you are interested in helping out, contact Operation Smile ( or let me know.

If you are looking make a contribution to the Panamanian community, but want to be able to take a tax deduction from your US income taxes, we can arrange this. All donations will come to Operacion Sonrisa Panama, but we can have a receipt issued by Operation Smile in the US so that it will be fully tax deductible. Just let me know (email me at

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