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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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OpSmile turns 30,
journeys home

May Klaire Parparan, of Isabela, Negros Occidental, who was born with a cleft lip, as a child, had dreamt of becoming a nurse.

She had been raised with a lot of love so she felt special despite her deformity, until one day when she was 7 years old, a teenager asked: “How can you become a nurse, nurses are beautiful, you’re different?”

“That was when I realized that I was not like others, I had a deformity. My world fell apart, I lost my dream, there did not seem to be a future for me,” May Klaire said yesterday.

May Klaire had undergone surgery for her cleft lip when she was 5 years old but her deformity still showed until the Operation Smile doctors came to town when she was 12 and, through Hope Foundation in Negros, she underwent surgery again.

She said with the operation that removed the traces of her cleft lip, “I became more confident, my self-esteem grew. I discovered my self-worth and respected myself more so others would respect me, too.”

Today, May Klaire is 30 years old and a registered nurse working as a volunteer at the Ignacio Arroyo Memorial District Hospital in Isabela.

She is one of 2,628 patients whose lives Operation Smile has changed in Negros Occidental since it began coming to the province in 1988, in coordination with the Hope Volunteers Foundation, said Edith Villanueva, Hope vice president and overall coordinator of the ongoing Operation Smile mission at the Teresita L. Jalandoni Provincial Hospital in Silay City from Nov. 9 to 17.

She said that, in the current mission, they were able to screen 230 patients with deformities from the 305 applicants, but will only be able to operate on 150.

Operation Smile provides free reconstructive surgery to indigent children and adults born with cleft lip and palate, and other facial deformities.

“Operation Smile is the Philippines’ gift to the world. It was in the Philippines with its very first mission in Naga City, Camarines Sur, in 1982, that it was born to American parents Dr. William and Kathleen Magee,” Roberto Manzano, Operation Smile Philippines president and executive director, said.

The Magees, who are from Virginia, USA, traveled to the Philippines with a group of medical volunteers, on what was supposed to be a one-time mission but they realized that there were so many more with deformities who needed help.

The mission that began in the Philippines in 1982 is the world’s largest volunteer-based medical charity dedicated to providing free cleft surgeries to children in developing countries today.

It has 7,000 volunteers from 80 countries, maintains a permanent presence in 61 countries, and has helped 200,000 children, Dr. Magee said.

To mark the global celebration of the 30th anniversary of Operation Smile, Manzano said they are conducting a month-long medical mission in nine cities in the Philippines, where it all began.

Dr. Magee said that when he first came to the Philippines 30 years ago, he did not come solely for humanitarian reasons; he was a young plastic surgeon who wanted to become better at his craft.

But during their first mission in Naga, there were so many children who needed help that it changed his direction and purpose in life. It taught him and those on their team to think with their heart to make a difference in the lives of others, he said.

“I am 100 percent sure if we had gone to a country other than the Philippines that first year, there would be no Operation Smile. It was the warmth, generosity, openness and the beauty of the Filipino people,” Dr. Magee said, that made them continue to want to come back to the Philippines.

So, on their 30th year, they decided to make “a journey home because the Philippines is the home of Operation Smile”, as their way of saying thank you, he said.

“Filipinos have a special gift of warmth, hospitality and openness that tells people - come back and work side by side with us,” he said.

Kathleen Magee, a pediatric nurse, said the Philippines gave the Operation Smile volunteers the opportunity to make what was impossible for many possible in order to have new lives.

“If every Filipino donated P30 to change the life of children with a deformity in the country, we could stir a revolution,” Dr. Magee said, explaining that there is a still huge backlog of patients that have to be reached on top of those already helped by Operation Smile.

“Oral cleft is among the top 12 congenital defects in the country. One in every 500 or an estimated 4,000 Filipinos are born every year with a harelip, a cleft palate, or both,” Manzano said.

Data gathered by Operation Smile show that 10 percent of the cleft children, or 400, die before reaching their first birthday and 12 percent, or 480, do not live past the age of five.

“We want to reach these unfortunate children so we can treat them at an early age,” Manzano said.

To donate to Operation Smile, one can go to its website at http://philippines.operationsmile.org/how-to-help/donate/ for details, or to send P30, one can key in SMILE to 4483 through Smart and Sun networks.

Others have also started Christmas fund-raising drives for Operation Smile, Manzano said.

Villanueva said the biggest donor to Operation Smile’s missions to Negros Occidental is the provincial government.

She thanked Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. for all the many years of support, Leisure and Resorts World Corp. through Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District), the sugar federations, Lopue’s San Sebastian and other donors to this year’s mission.

Operation Smile, aside from conducting operations in Negros Occidental, is also donating equipment to the Teresita L. Jalandoni Provincial Hospital and the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital, Villanueva said.*CPG

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