Operation Smile Foundation moves forward into its 14th year of changing lives and creating smiles for Thai children and young adults suffering with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformiti.
Mr. Kevin J. Beauvais, Chairman of the Board, Operation Smile Thailand, remarked, “Operation Smile Thailand treats patients born with cleft deformities who live in remote areas of Thailand and neighboring countries, free of charge. To date, our foundation has provided over 9,000 life-changing surgeries. Most recently, we embarked on the “Bright Smiles and Happy Hearts” campaign in order to further assist patients with cleft lips and cleft palates in a more sustainable manner. Not only is the medical, dental and speech therapy treatment provided without charge, continued training is offered to volunteer medical personnel and useful information is distributed to patients and parents regarding care and treatment. Additionally, and importantly, a network of medical staff and patient databases are updated and maintained in order to improve treatment and communication across the country. Operation Smile Thailand is extremely honored that Mr. Anand Panyarachun accepted our invitation to join us as our Honorary Chairman and help us continue on with the work we do. With his vision and support, the foundation can continue to create smiles and provide brighter futures for the children of Thailand for many years to come.”
During the press conference, Mr. Anand also revealed that he had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Bill Magee, founder of Operation Smile Foundation, at a humanitarian awards ceremony in 1996, and he persuaded Dr. Magee and the team of volunteers to consider helping children with severe cleft lips and cleft palates back in his home country of Thailand. Dr. Magee was very pleased to accommodate the wishes and assist local patients. The American-based foundation helped coordinate and prepare international volunteer medical teams for the first Thai mission in 1997. Phramongkutklao Hospital in Bangkok and Yasothon province screened almost 400 patients, which reflected the fact that many people were suffering from these facial deformities and awaited treatment. The treatment of such conditions requires both funding and time for children to heal and bounce back with the perfect smile.
He added, “Recently, Operation Smile Foundation contacted me and invited me to become their Honorary Chairman. I have the great pleasure of accepting the position and fully support the foundation and the meaningful work they do. I have recently had the opportunity to talk with patients and parents of patients, which helped me better understand their plight and their personal feelings. They suffer from the visible deformity on their faces, and are also faced with difficulty in drinking milk and water, eating, breathing, talking, etc. The parents also experience stress, fear and sadness wondering what will become of their child. I can see that these patients have no confidence in themselves, and some children do not even have access to education, for fear of going to school and being ridiculed. They become disadvantaged in society; some may be withdrawn or drawn to lives of misconduct. I believe that we can give them a better chance by providing a bright new smile to aid their personal potential. They may even exceed all expectations. We deliver smiles to such patients and offer opportunities for them to have a vibrant life, a good job and become a person who can help the country progress.”
“My main goal is to fully help patients by integrating financial sustainability into the core of the foundation, which will help Operation Smile Foundation bridge its gaps and complement the public health system to achieve greater efficacy, with a focus on the patient and removing barriers to care. Wherever there are patients, we will go to them to provide treatment, and we will also help to treat patients with complex conditions and provide care that is more comprehensive and thorough. There are many patients waiting to get help, and sadly, some patients do not even have the meagre funds to travel to access the free surgery. The foundation provides surgeries and medical care according to international standards, including a rigorous medical personnel selection process, as well as modern equipment and medical devices that are internationally recognized for quality standards. We have strictly implemented such a framework for over 14 years, to ensure that admitted patients receive the highest levels of care and safety. Lastly, the importance of educating the public, especially women of reproductive ages, to take care of their health and help prevent birth deformities, as well as learn how to care for babies who are born with cleft deformities and may need surgery. I look forward to receiving support from all sectors in order to help provide sustainable and long-term solutions to this problem. I invite private and public companies to allocate an annual budget as appropriate in order to help me raise capital of 50 million baht per year, and I will create confidence and reassurance to donors that any funds donated to the foundation will be used in an effective and transparent manner,” Mr. Anand Panyarachun said.
Associate Professor at Chulalangkorn University and Director of Medical Operations for Operation Smile Foundation, Dr. Apichai Angspatt, spoke about the current circumstances of the disease of cleft lip and palate in Thailand. He said that 1 child in 700 is born with cleft lip, cleft palate or both. In one year, there are approximately 2,000 children that face the disorder, although the causes of the disease still not clearly known. “We believe that the deformities may be caused by genetic and environmental factors, such as the combination of poor pre-natal care, malnutrition, or substance abuse. The medical team and hospital volunteers are devoted to helping treat and care for these patients as best as possible. The mobile medical unit travels to various provinces in Thailand for a week-long surgical mission to see patients who have difficulty accessing treatment. The foundation continues to provide treatment to patients because the surgery is considered a life-changer for them. By delivering a smile to patients and their families, we give them an opportunity for a better life.”
Teen star, Ms. Sucharat “Aom” Manaying, , was also recently invited to be a Smile Ambassador for Operation Smile Foundation and travelled with the medical unit to a mission and recalled, “The first time I participated in the foundation’s medical unit efforts and witnessed a surgery, I was very impressed. A surgery takes less than 1hour and can change someone’s life forever and gives a new future to children, their families and the communities. In society, these kids enjoy a richer quality of life. I think that is the greatest gift any child can receive. I also had the chance to participate in the foundation’s fundraising activities. When the Operation Smile asked me to be a Smile Ambassador here in Thailand, I said yes because I wanted to help put smiles on children’s faces so they can have a new, and better future. So now, I help promote the cause so that Thai people will better know about the challenges and consequences these children face. In May, we will go to Chonburi to provide surgery for children, so I will also be visiting the area to give comfort and encouragement. I invite everyone in the Thai community to help deliver new smiles for these needy kids by sharing information and making personal donations. Corporate donors can join us by partnering in the “Bright Smiles & Happy Hearts” campaign that offers businesses the opportunity to give back and help the community. Through this coalition of compassionate companies, we will raise the much needed funds for Operation Smile and help those most in need. I invite generous corporate partners to join us in this endeavor.”
Mrs. Orawan Champahom, the mother of Suphanut “Folksong” Khampala, was living in Amnat Charoen province during her pregnancy, and after delivery learned her son was born with both cleft lip and cleft palate. “I was very shocked when the delivering doctor told me, because I did not know about this deformity before. I did not think that this could happen to our children. I was so sad at learning this news, but the doctor at the hospital in Amnat Charoen referred me to a hospital in Ubon Ratchathani. There, a doctor told me about Operation Smile Thailand, and that they would be able to assist my child with free cleft surgery. I felt very happy, but we had to wait until Folksong reached the minimum criteria of 3 months in age and 5 kilos in weight before he could have surgery. When he was ready, he first had the cleft lip surgery. At the age of 9 months, he underwent surgery for a second time and will have surgery again for the third time soon. He’ll then have a normal, happy life like most kids.”
“If not for Operation Smile, I would not be here today and my child and I would be in a very difficult position indeed. In particular, the daily life of Folksong would be hard and surely very lonely. After he completed the surgeries, the drastic positive changes in both his emotional and developmental state could be seen. He was a baby who was difficult to care for and feed, because every time he would choke on the milk and become frustrated and upset. Now, he can suckle and eat, so he’s in a better mood. We must thank Operation Smile Thailand and all the kind sponsors who have become involved in our plight. Most importantly, I want to thank you all very much for coming and returning bright smiles to our faces.”