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Operation Smile Celebrates 35 Years

Dr. William (Bill) Magee, Jr., D.D.S., M.D.
Operation Smile Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer

Plastic and Craniofacial surgeon

Trained and mentored thousands of physicians worldwide

Featured guest on many network television programs

Speaker for corporate and national meetings

Received a D.D.S. from the University of Maryland

M.D. from George Washington University Medical School and his plastic surgery training at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va.


Kathleen (Kathy) Magee, B.S.N., M.Ed., M.S.:
Operation Smile Co-founder and President

Established several Operation Smile international foundations

Former nurse and clinical social worker

Received her B.S.N. from College Misericordia in Pennsylvania, M.Ed. from the University of Maryland and M.S.W. from Norfolk State University in Virginia

Related Topics

Operation Smile was founded in 1982 when Bill and Kathy traveled to the Philippines with a group of medical volunteers to repair children's cleft lips and cleft palates (a gap in the mouth that didn't close during the early stages of pregnancy). As a result, children born with a cleft condition may have an opening in the lip or the roof of their mouth – or both. Without surgery, 9 in 10 children born with a cleft condition could die from malnourishment, etc. When Bill and Kathy arrived in the Philippines what they saw was overwhelming. "People pushed their babies at us," recalls Kathy." They tugged at our sleeves with tears in their eyes and begged us to help their children." In Naga City, approximately 300 families arrived hoping their children would receive surgery, but the team could only treat 40 children. As they prepared to leave, Bill and Kathy made a promise they would return to help more children. When they returned home Bill wrote Pat Robertson requesting money to help get Operation Smile off the ground. Quick to respond, Pat said, “No problem. When do you need it?” With the funding they received from CBN and others, Operation Smile was able to get started. Bill and Kathy also began soliciting donations of surgical equipment and supplies from manufacturers, threw themselves into grassroots fundraising and assembled a volunteer team of 18 doctors, nurses and technicians for their own medical mission to the Philippines. They helped approximately 100 more patients, but again, hundreds still waited. Bill and Kathy saw the enormous need and as a result Operation Smile was born. “Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will,” shares Kathy. Over the last 35 years, Operation Smile has provided free reconstructive surgery to more than 26,400 patients and dental care to more than 5,100 patients in the Philippines with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities.

Today Operation Smile has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft conditions or facial deformities. Last year during its 35th anniversary, Operation Smile provided more than 415,000 patient interactions, including patient health screenings, operations and post-operative care at medical missions; dental screenings and procedures; and operations and consultations at care locations. They also provided more than 21,000 patients with surgery and dental care last year. Since 1982, Operation Smile has helped more than 270,000 people receive life-changing surgical care in their communities. It is one of the oldest and largest volunteer-based organizations dedicated to improving the health and lives of children worldwide through access to surgical care. Operation Smile helps to fill the gap in providing access to safe, well-timed surgeries by partnering with hospitals, governments and ministries of health, training local medical personnel, and donating much-needed supplies and equipment to surgical sites around the world. This charity has extended its global reach to more than 60 countries through its network of credentialed surgeons, pediatricians, doctors, nurses, and student volunteers.

In an attempt to discover the causes of cleft, Operation Smile and their partners at the University of Southern California (USC) and Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), analyze genetic data obtained from saliva samples voluntarily provided by patients, their families and control groups, as well as information collected from maternal and paternal questionnaires on environmental exposures and lifestyle habits. Launched in 2009, the study blends the data from this genetic analysis with the questionnaire findings to provide the most comprehensive understanding of the causes of cleft conditions. The ultimate goal is to put this evidence into action to prevent cleft conditions before they develop in the womb. To date, nearly 14,000 individual saliva samples across almost 5,600 families have been collected, making it the world’s largest repository of genetic information relating to global cleft populations.

Last year, Operation Smile celebrated its 35th anniversary with the global launch of its Until We Heal campaign, an effort to increase access to safe surgical care for people suffering from cleft conditions. This global campaign, first inspired by students, aims to mobilize new partners in government and civil society, to join in creating long-term solutions to increase access to safe surgery and eradicate cleft. The campaign invites citizens around the world to sign the Until We Heal pledge to demonstrate to global leaders the overwhelming support for access to safe surgery. “Operation Smile won’t stop until we heal every child with cleft. We will continue to bring attention to the global lack of access to safe surgery with help from our many partners and volunteers, especially our student leaders, who started this campaign and inspired a global movement,” shares Kathy. The future goal for Operation Smile is to provide safe cleft surgery for every adult, teen and child in need. Then, the remaining patients will be all babies and toddlers who can be scheduled for surgery at the best time. Their cleft care will be truly SET: safe, effective and timely. “Operation Smile is a global organization that takes care of children with facial deformities. We could not have done this for the past 35 years without the help of thousands of dedicated volunteers and partners. It is what has enabled us to transition from a mission-driven organization to a provider of sustained comprehensive care,” shares Bill.

Here are two of the many stories behind the smiles that Operation Smile has helped to create through the years:

  • Danila’s story - More than 400 children and their families gathered at the Infantil Albert Sabin Hospital in Fortaleza, Brazil. Danila, a 5-year-old, had come with her mother to get the gap in her lip fixed. They had traveled for miles, for hours, through arid fields and down dirt roads from their little village of Senador Pompeu. Danila’s cousin, who had moved to the big city of Fortaleza, learned about the Operation Smile mission from a friend who worked at the hospital. Danila, the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters, had thrived in the love and support of her large family, but she didn’t have many friends because of the “funny thing” on her face. She was ridiculed and made to feel ugly and unwanted because of her facial deformity. It was heartbreaking for her parents. Now after her successful surgery, Danila can’t stop smiling. She is a beautiful, loving child, who does well in school, takes care of her chores and giggles with her many friends just like any other little girl. Her mother has seen a remarkable change in her daughter's personality as a result of her surgery. “I am very happy to see my daughter smiling all the time. She is doing so well. She has many friends, many new ones, that come to our house all the time to play with Danila.”
  • Marceline’s story - Marceline was bullied; people laughed at her, called her names and would spit on her because of her cleft condition. “They told me: ‘Don’t come around here. You are making us sick to our stomachs.’ And they hit me.” She tried to hide her face when she was out in public. She even stopped attending school. When Marceline and her mother heard on the radio that Operation Smile was coming to Rwanda, friends lent them the money to make the long trip. “When my name was called for surgery, I was so excited that I was shaking,” Marceline said. In just an hour, Operation Smile’s skilled surgeons repaired her cleft lip and reshaped her nose, giving her hope for a better life. Today Marceline is in school, and she’s confident for the first time in her life.
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