For 30 years, Operation Smile has mobilized a world of generous hearts to heal children's smiles and transform lives across the globe. To learn more about Operation Smile and how you can join their effort, visit operationsmile.org.
Every three minutes a child is born with a facial deformity like a cleft lip or a cleft palate. Without proper surgery, these children are unable to eat, speak, socialize or even smile. And nowhere does this problem go untreated more than in developing countries.
One such child was Samuel Koranteng. Born in Ghana to a stonemason father and a mother who worked in the local market, Samuel suffered from a cleft lip that made him a target among his peers. Luckily, his distraught father Abraham heard about Operation Smile through a radio broadcast and soon enough Samuel received a life-changing surgery, free of charge.
Since its inception in 1982 – when Dr. Bill Magee and wife Kathy Magee first joined a group of medical volunteers to repair cleft lips and cleft palates in the Philippines – Operation Smile has provided over 3.5 million healthcare evaluations and performed over 200,000 free surgeries for children and young adults born with these facial deformities. The international medical charity has mobilized over 5,200 medical volunteers around the world and now works in over 60 countries. To build self-sufficiency in developing countries, Operation Smile donates medical equipment and trains in-country doctors so they are empowered to treat their own local populations.
Operation Smile sat down with Samuel's father Abraham to discuss how the family felt when Samuel was first born and what it was like to see their son receive this life-changing surgery.
When did they discover child had a cleft?
How did they feel?
I was present at the birth. I wasn’t happy when I saw he was born with a facial deformity. It was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing and I was afraid. I felt helpless as I didn’t know where to turn for help. My wife was scared and worried.
Why do you think your child was born with a cleft?
It came to my mind that I’d done something wrong in my life to deserve it. Some people in the village accused my wife of having cursed Samuel. Others said it had happened because she had been arrogant in life so God caused her baby to have a cleft. As a man I felt angry and upset hearing people gossiping about my wife like that.
How did you hear about the Operation Smile medical mission?
I heard about it on the radio and I made a note of the date and location. I’d tried to get Samuel the operation for so long but with no luck. I felt so happy when I heard about Operation Smile coming to Ghana.
Are there any other family members with a cleft?
How did you travel/acquire expenses?
We travelled to Accra in a car which I borrowed from somebody in the village. It took four hours. We stayed in Accra for nine days. Operation Smile provided us with accommodation which we were very happy about it.
How did the surgery change your lives?
When Samuel met other cleft patients at the mission he smiled and played with them. He was visibly relieved that there were other children in the world with clefts just like him. He showed a visible interest in other cleft patients and was very excited about playing with them.
The children in the village used to tease Samuel before the operation so he was reluctant to go out or even to run small errands for me. Thanks to Operation Smile the surgery has given Samuel renewed confidence to socialise with other children and adults.
The whole village welcomed Samuel back from the Operation Smile medical mission in Accra with a joyous reception. Dozens of people turned out including four generations of Samuel’s family. We were so proud of him and it was amazing to see the happiness on his face.
What hopes do you have for your child’s life?
I know that thanks to Operation Smile Samuel will have a great future. We have high hopes for him. I hope to provide him a good education so he can become whatever he wants.
Do you have a message for the Operation Smile medical volunteer team?
I would like to send great thanks to the Operation Smile medical volunteers and express my gratitude. Without them my child would not have received this wonderful operation. I give thanks to God for Operation Smile.
What advice would you give other parents who have a child born with a cleft?
The advice I would give other parents who have a child with a cleft is don’t worry. Operation Smile is here to help