Operation Smile, provides free surgery to repair facial deformities for children in Vietnam, to mark first groundbreaking mission 25 years ago. Sharon Reich reports.
Six-month-old Nyguen Ti Hanh was born with a cleft lip. Her father has the same condition and underwent the surgery himself. Now, he wants nothing more than the opportunity to help his child. SOUNDBITE: Hanh's father, Nyguen Van Dinh, saying (Vietnamese): "I am insecure about the way I sound and look, therefore I am determined to take my daughter to Operation Smile. With the help of the American doctors, I hope Hanh will grow up beautifully and not be insecure like me so she could blend in well with others." Hanh is one of hundreds of children receiving treatment from doctors at Operation Smile. The non profit group, has been performing free corrective surgeries for children around the world. This month, the group returned to Vietnam on the anniversary of its first groundbreaking mission in 1989. Co-founder and surgeon Dr. Bill Magee, performed Hanh's three hour surgery. He says, being able to help others is a gift. SOUNDBTE: Operation Smile Co-founder and surgeon Dr. Bill Magee saying (English): "It's selfish in a way, but we got to get back to the basics of what makes us feel good, and that's what to me Operation Smile is. It's just using our talent to help somebody else to have a little smile on their face." Cleft conditions occur when there is an opening either in the lip, roof or soft tissue at the back of the mouth. The cause is still unknown, although doctors believe it stems from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Operation Smile has more than 5,400 volunteers helping children with the condition. Dr. Ruben Ayala says he hopes with enough research, they'll be able to prevent the condition all together. SOUNDBTE: Ruben Ayala, Operation Smile's Senior Vice President of Health Affairs saying (English): "Our patients have a richness of lessons that they can give us. So if we know that the genes that are on a cleft lip and palate patient are only triggered by specific things then I am able to prevent those things." So far the organization has helped more than 220 thousand children in 60 countries. For Hanh's family and the others receiving treatment at the Hanoi hospital, Operation Smile's anniversary visit, is one they'll never forget.