11 August 2015

Winning smiles aboard ‘USNS Mercy’

Inside a gymnasium filled with rubber matting, parents and children line up to await their turn to be screened. Some of the kids screamed their lungs out after their blood samples were drawn, while others were happy just to be around with other children for play.

All of them had one wish, though – for them to qualify for a free cleft lip and palate surgery courtesy of “Operation Smile.”

For years now, volunteer doctors and medical professionals join Operation Smile to offer themselves for the betterment of the lives of children born with the odd condition. They come together from different corners of the Earth with one mission – to allow a child the full freedom and happiness to smile.

These volunteer professionals have one goal in mind, to give children a reason to smile.

This year’s mission is particularly special for Operation Smile as it is being conducted until August 12 aboard the “USNS Mercy,” the 894-foot long US Navy hospital ship.

The multinational team of Operation Smile volunteer cleft care professionals from 13 countries arrived in Subic Bay Freeport last Wednesday and, since then, buckled down to a five-day free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries for Filipinos aboard the USNS Mercy.

“Subic is our seventh international mission site this year and this shows just how serious we are at harnessing Operation Smile’s global resources to help eradicate the backlog of cleft cases in the Philippines,” said Operation Smile COO Wayne Zinn, a former US Marine who did a tour at the then Subic Naval Base from 1979 to 1980s.

The Philippines has a high prevalence of cleft births. Every year, an estimated one in every 500 live births or 5,000 babies are born with the deformity. (Jonas Reyes, Manila Bulletin)

SMILING IN PAIN — A cleft-lipped child manages to smile in the comfort of his mother’s arms as he receives a shot in the arm during the recent screening of children hoping to get a free cleft-lip palate surgery courtesy of volunteer doctors of ‘Operation Smile’ inside the visiting ‘USNS Mercy,’ currently docked at Subic Bay Freeport. (Jonas Reyes)