Smile for ME
For the past twenty years a dedicated group of doctors and nursing staff from Prince of Wales Private Hospital in Sydney have donated their time and clinical skills to assist children undergoing cleft palate and lip surgeries in Cebu Philippines
Operation Restore Hope was a passion project of Maureen Eddison, a dedicated nurse for more than 37 years, who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to the international community.
With the sudden and untimely loss of Maureen on 1 January 2016, this team of doctors and nurses from the Prince of Wales Private Hospital wanted to honour Maureen and her legacy and created the charity Smile for ME.
Smile for ME is a charity that gives children access to free, safe surgery to repair cleft lip and palate deformities.
The charity gives the kids a chance to learn to speak after the surgery so they can go to school, eventually get a job and contribute to their community â€“ transforming their lives.
Each year, over five days of surgery, the team of specialist doctors, dentists and nurses, are able to perform the needed surgery on approximately 60-80 children with cleft palate and cleft lip deformities.
Mandy Linsley of Smile from ME explains that, â€œFamilies travel long distances from the outer islands to line-up in the hope of receiving the life changing gift of cleft palate surgery for their child by the Smile for ME team â€“ a costly operation, otherwise inaccessible to most families in the Philippines.â€
â€œOn a recent trip in July 2017 the team screened 67 patients, operated on 59 children and teenagers, comprising of 29 cleft lip and 30 cleft palate repairsâ€
â€œOver 85% of the children operated on were under five years old and just on 25% were under two years old,â€ explains Cathy Quinlan.
Imee Bijo is from the Southern Island of Mindanao and she brought her son to the Smile for ME clinic for a cleft palate repair six years ago.
Having stayed in touch with the team post her sonâ€™s surgery, Imee has since returned twice to the clinic with other families from her village in Mindanao, which requires a ferry and a bus ride of nearly 300kms.
Imee is forever grateful to the team & understands how daunting it can be to travel long distances to have your child hopefully operated on by the visiting surgeons
â€œThere is a strong hereditary aspect with these conditions, Toby Jeridus attended the clinic as a smiling eight month old. His parents admitting that they were shocked when he was born with a cleft lip,â€ Julie Doyle explains.
Friends had explained that there was a free clinic run by Smile for ME so they bought Toby along for a consultation and he was operated on by the team.
Tobyâ€™s family could not thank the team enough, saying that he will have a life where he will be able to speak properly and be able to go to school.
â€œOne of the youngest patients to be operated on was Zhea Kate Layson, a five month old little girl with, as the nurses described, a beautiful engaging smile,â€ explains Cheryl Box.
Similar to Tobyâ€™s parents, Zheaâ€™s parents were delighted when she was cleared for surgery, as this will allow her to feed easier and speak clearly as she gets older.
Cathy explains that one of the most prolific stories the Smile from ME team recount is Alora Palang, who is 2011 came to the clinic for the final stage of surgery for both a cleft lip and palate.
â€œAlora came to us as a 22 year old and what we subsequently found out was that she had, had a difficult childhood due to the difficulties feeding and speaking. She had been bullied by her peers and teachers as they could not understand her,â€ explains Cathy.
Low self-esteem is quite common in children and adults with cleft lips and palates.
â€œAlora told us that for many years she was depressed but after her surgery she no longer felt like the ugly duckling but was now a beautiful swan. On our finals days in Cebu we caught up with Alora and we could not agree what an amazing young girl she is,â€ said Cathy.
The Smile for ME team love their time in Cebu, seeing directly the impact their clinical care provides their patients.
Smile for ME could not continue to do these surgical missions without ongoing support are are currently in the midst of preparing and fundraising for their next surgical mission, details can be found on www.smileformme.org.au
Smile for ME is supported in the Philippines by AMRO, Abounding in Love and joins a US team of surgeons from Better Smiles Brighter Futures for its annual trips.