Smile Train Stories

Patient and Partner Stories from Smile Train's Work Around the World

Update from the Field: Typhoon Haiyan

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Philippines Country Manager, Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano (far right), visits a Smile Train patient this past September. Kimmy recently sent an update regarding Typhoon Haiyan.

Philippines Country Manager, Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano (far right), visits a Smile Train patient this past September. Kimmy recently sent an update regarding Typhoon Haiyan.


Manila, PhilippinesThis weekend many parts of the Philippines were devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in recorded history. Smile Train’s Philippines Country Manager, Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano shared this note with us. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Philippines, including our 60 partner hospitals and 26,000 patients.

As if the 24 storms we experienced this year (plus a major earthquake and war) were not enough…

This week,Typhoon Haiyan (locally called Yolanda – our storms are named alphabetically – so we’re now at letter “Y.”) battered nearly half of the country. The “good” thing is that it moved so fast (235 kilometers per hour) that there was not much flooding. But the winds caused much trouble in the provinces it hit. Data gathering is still being done, but, for now, one of the first hit was a place called Tacloban, Leyte.

Tacloban is where Smile Train established a cleft center, through our partner Maharlika Charity Foundation and with generous funding from Dubai Duty Free. There is no internet, electricity, phones, and water in the entire province of Leyte right now, so news is trickling in very slowly. Windows in offices, hospitals and homes shattered due to the strength of the wind. Cars and roofs were literally flying in the air.

Aside from Tacloban, Surigao was also badly hit. We also just established a cleft center in Surigao through Maharlika and Dubai Duty Free. Other locations affected where we have active partners are Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo (these three are still picking up pieces from the 7.2 earthquake that hit a few weeks ago), and Bicol. It is estimated that about one million families are affected.

I have gotten in touch with some of our partners in areas where their mobile phones are now working. Most of them are generally okay, but are very worried about the patients.

Thank you again for checking in on us here in the Philippines – we’re now known all over the world as the place where the strongest typhoon/hurricane/cyclone on the planet in recorded history made landfall (a total of 6 times!). Vietnam is now bracing herself for Typhoon Haiyan, but luckily, it has weakened since it left the Philippines.

To our friends in Vietnam, I hope you and your loved ones will be spared from the typhoon! Please take care and stay safe!

Written by Smile Train

November 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Cleft Surgery Finds Akhtar

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Mohammed Akhtar, left, waves good bye with his father and brothers to the staff from Smile Train partner hospital Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital after their visit to his home.

Mohammed Akhtar, left, waves good bye with his father and brothers to the staff from Smile Train partner hospital Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital after their visit to his home.

Multan, Pakistan—Mohammad Akhtar is a 15-year-old boy who grew up with both a cleft lip and palate. His family lives in a remote area of Pakistan known as Jungle Maryala. This area so isolated that in order to get to the nearest city, Multan, 22 kilometers away, one must either travel by foot or animal-pulled carts—there are no proper roads available to get there.

Mohammad Akhtar, 15, before his cleft lip and palate surgery.

Mohammad Akhtar, 15, before his cleft lip and palate surgery.


Both Aktar’s mother and father are illiterate and had very little awareness about the treatment of cleft lip and palate. Furthermore, as a carpenter, Akhtar’s father was barely able to provide for his wife and eight children, with Akhtar being the only born with a cleft. Due to the family’s poverty, his parents were helpless to address their son’s cleft lip and palate. Akhtar’s mother said that she and her husband worried about Akhtar so much that “they gave him more attention than the other siblings because all others were leading a normal and healthy life.”

One day, a neighbor of Akhtar’s, who often visited Multan, read a billboard advertising Bakhtawar Amin Memorial Trust Hospital’s Smile Train program, providing free cleft lip and palate surgery to patients in need. The hospital was also located in Multan. When he returned home, the neighbor immediately told Akhtar’s father about the treatment. While he was overjoyed to hear about the free treatment as he could not bear the expense of surgery himself, unfortunately Akhtar’s father could also not afford the expense of travel to the hospital. His neighbor then offered provide the father with the carriage he usually used to visit the city.

Akhtar, along with his parents, arrived at the hospital on June 10, 2013 and were welcomed warmly by the staff of the hospital. After the initial checkup, Akhtar was scheduled for surgery two days later. After a successful cleft lip and palate surgery by Dr. Amir Hanif, Akhtar and was discharged on June 15th and returned home.

The team at Bakhtawar Amin visited Akhtar and his family at his home in Jungle Maryala to see Akhtar’s progress since the surgery. His father commented, “Akhtar, having cleft lip and palate problems, was living a very difficult life with an inferiority complex because not only his peer group, but also his siblings, made fun of him.”

The parents were very happy and were thankful to Smile Train as well as Bakhtawar Amin for helping their son when they could not.

Journey of Smiles: Brazil

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Four-year-old Bianca Lima before her Smile Train cleft surgery and three months after.

Four-year-old Bianca Lima before her Smile Train cleft surgery and three months after.

Salvador, BrazilSmile Train staff member Caity Roarke recently visited Hospital Santo Antonio a Smile Train partner hospital in Salvador, Brazil. While there Caity was able to meet Bianca and observed the quality cleft care provided to this young patient. She shares her experience below.

Bianca Lima received her first surgery to repair her cleft lip at Hospital Santo Antonio in Salvador, Brazil, on July 10, 2013. When I met her last month, she had just turned four and was back at the hospital for a series of aftercare visits. In one day and in one building, she was cared for by a social worker, a speech therapist, an orthodontist, her surgeon and a psychologist.

Every day Hospital Santo Antonio sees patients for everything from pre-screening for surgery, to speech therapy and orthodontics. The facilities at the hospital allow for continuous and accessible after care for past patients as well as those who received surgery at another hospital. Their main waiting area is a circular ‘one-stop-shop’ where patients can see as many as eight different practitioners all in one day. This is especially important to those patients, like Bianca, who have to travel miles and miles in order to see these doctors and get the appropriate care after their cleft surgery.

The last time Bianca was at the hospital she had come for her Smile Train surgery. Before the surgery she never spoke. On the day I met her, she met with a speech therapist to come up with a plan to expand her language. Bianca then met with a psychologist to help her become more comfortable engaging with others.

While she is still a bit shy about speaking, she instantly lit up around the other children in the waiting room and spent the entire afternoon playing games and interacting with everyone around her, laughing and smiling the whole time.Bianca is just one of the many examples of how essential aftercare can be and what a profound effect it can have on children’s lives beyond one surgery.

Written by Smile Train

November 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Finding More Than One Way To Help

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Madi Bennett (right) and January recently reunited after January's Smile Train surgery. During her volunteer work in the Philippines, Madi found January and another little girl living with unrepaired clefts and connected them to Smile Train.

Madi Bennett (right) and January recently reunited after January’s Smile Train surgery. During her volunteer work in the Philippines, Madi found January and another little girl living with unrepaired clefts and connected them to Smile Train.


Manila, PhilippinesMadi Bennett, a volunteer with Kids International Ministries, writes about her experience with Smile Train in the Philippines.

I started coming to the Philippines with my family when I was four and have loved it ever since. I decided to take my first semester off of college and spend that time serving God by helping impoverished children in the Philippines. One of my projects while I am here is Kids International Ministries’ feeding program. We go out into the poorest communities of Manila and feed children two times a week, Monday through Friday. We serve protein enriched rice, which is fortified with vitamins and minerals. While distributing meals, our group also provides vitamins, deworming medication, and basic medical care.

Our feeding program is what started it all with Smile Train. When I was in the Philippines in March of 2013, I came across two girls, Althea and January. They both had cleft lips. I took a few pictures of each girl and kept them in mind. When I got back home from my trip I started to research cleft palates and cleft lips. I came across Smile Train and decided to try and contact them. I expected the process of getting the girls surgery to take weeks if not months, but it didn’t! Within 48 hours of emailing Smile Train, we were put in contact with Drs. Edmund Mercado and Jennifer Deoduco-Mercado in the Philippines and had Althea and January scheduled for appointments. Both girls went in for check-ups just a few days afterwards and the next week Althea had her surgery. January had a cold so they had to wait another week to do surgery. It is amazing how fast the process went. It was absolutely a ‘God moment’ that makes you take a step back and say, “WOW!”

This past week I got the chance to meet up with both of the girls to see their new smiles. It was so exciting to see them. Althea was very shy and wouldn’t say much, but the look on her mom’s face said it all. You could feel how thankful they were for the life-changing surgery. I met January the next day and we took pictures and talked for a while. She had an appointment on Monday because she needs a second surgery to correct her cleft palate.

Since these first two girls, our organization has been on the lookout for other children with cleft lips and/or palates and have been able to refer and help more children through this process. Smile Train is truly a blessing to the world! They help so many people and it is amazing to experience it all firsthand. Thank you Smile Train for changing the lives of these little children.

You can read more about Madi’s work in the Philippines on her blog: http://eightthousandmilesaway.wordpress.com/

Althea before and after her Smile Train surgery.

Althea before and after her Smile Train surgery


Althea (above) and January before and after their Smile Train surgeries.

January before and after her Smile Train surgery.

Smile Train Surgeons and a Beauty Queen Deliver Smiles in Vietnam

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Little Corn Maize before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Little Corn Maize before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Hanoi, Vietnam—Nine-month-old Do Tran Gia Bao, affectionately known as Corn Maize by his family, was born in Hanoi, Vietnam. His parents were thrilled when they found out Corn Maize’s mother was pregnant as they had wanted children for many years. Both maternal and paternal families were happy and encouraging when he was born, which was very important as Corn Maize was born with a cleft lip and palate.

The entire family frantically searched for a solution to Corn Maize’s birth defect. None of them had ever heard of cleft lip and palate, let alone seen one.

One day a solution came. While she was working at a spa, Corn Maize’s aunt fortunately had a very special customer: Miss Vietnam. After listening to the aunt describe Corn Maize’s condition and the efforts the family had gone through to help the baby boy, Miss Vietnam decided to seek treatment for Corn Maize.

The only memory the family has of Corn Maize before surgery is on his father's phone.

The only memory the family has of Corn Maize before surgery is on his father’s phone.

The beauty queen contacted many places and was given information about Smile Train. She quickly motivated Corn Maize’s parents to bring their child to Smile Train partner Vietnam Cuba Hospital located in Hanoi, letting them know their son would be in good hands and that the surgery was completely free. According to Corn Maize’s parents “the compassionate surgeons returned the face of their child to smiles and laughter.”

The Smile Train surgeons were equally impressed with the parents as the scar from Corn Maize’s surgery healed very quickly because they rigorously followed the surgeons’ directions for their son’s postoperative care.

Before his Smile Train surgery, Corn Maize’s parents did not leave the house with their new baby boy as they were worried about the reaction of strangers. Now though, they can’t stop showing their happy little boy off! Corn Maize will soon have another surgery to fix his palate, but his father’s only memory of Corn Maize’s first surgery is a photo he took with his phone right before he took his little boy to the hospital. Now the family says they enjoy limitless happiness and believe “there is nothing more beautiful than a smile that has overcome a lot of tears.”

After Surgery, Teased No More

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Hussain beforeHussain after

Lahore, Pakistan—When five-year-old Hussain’s mother first looked at him when he was born she got faint, overwhelmed with intense grief. She had finally given birth to a son after two daughters, but Hussain was born with a cleft lip and palate. Because of her intense sorrow, the mother was brought to the hospital, but not the newborn.

As Hussain grew he became the victim of ridicule. Often when relatives visited they would bite their fingers with shock and say, “It is better not to have a son instead of having such an offspring.”

Hussain did not play with other boys in the neighborhood because they all teased him. They would touch his cleft lip and laugh. Besides the teasing, Hussain had trouble eating throughout childhood and could only eat food from one side of his mouth and drink with a spoon.

In the hope of helping as many cleft patients as possible, the Smile Train team from Lahore Cleft Centre happened to visit Hussain’s village and found the little boy. They assured Hussain and his parents that he could receive operations to fix both his lip and palate and it would cost the family nothing.

Some neighbors tried to convince Hussain’s father not to let the Smile Train surgeons operate on his son incorrectly telling him, “They will take a muscle flap and flesh from one side of Hussain’s body and will graft it over the lip, which would be risky.” Trusting Smile Train and the surgeons though, Hussain’s father brought his son to Lahore Cleft Centre. The operation was successful and afterwards the staff assured Hussain and his parents that he would never again be an object of jest and fun. He would never again hear: “Oh see! The hole boy is coming.”

Hussain is now a happy little boy and his palate will also be repaired in six months.

Smile of the Week: Adil Raza

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Adil Raza, five years old, proudly displays his Smile Train backpack, which he returned to claim four years after his Smile Train surgery.

Adil Raza, five years old, proudly displays his Smile Train backpack, which he returned to claim four years after his Smile Train surgery.


Siliguri, India—Our Smile of the Week, Adil Raza, recieved his Smile Train surgery July 1, 2009 at Anandaloke Hospital in Siliguri, West Bengal, India.
Adil in 2009 before his cleft surgery.

Adil in 2009 before his cleft surgery.

Four years later Adil once again visited the hospital that provided his life changing surgery. His reason for doing so? He wanted a Smile Train backpack, which he saw another child in his village wearing. Adil asked why he had not gotten one after his surgery and the staff jokingly reminded him he was only infant and too small for a school bag then.

Now Adil is ready to begin school with his new backpack. His grandmother says she is very proud of him. She gladly shares that he is smart, speaks well, and gets his way in most things.

Written by Smile Train

August 9, 2013 at 9:55 am

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