Patricia Simon: Cleft Patient to Smile Maker

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Former cleft patient and long-time Smile Train supporter Patricia Simon explains why she’s dedicated her life to being an advocate for those affected by cleft lip and palate.

My name is Patricia Simon and I was born with a cleft lip and palate. I had very supportive parents who were able to provide me with cleft surgeries and speech therapy and I could always count on the love and support of my four siblings and friends. I was fortunate, but my family and I also had to traverse a great deal of challenges in my road to cleft repair, which has led me to become an advocate for others affected by cleft lip and palate.

As a registered nurse, I get to work hands-on with people facing health issues in my community. Over the years, I’ve been able to care for babies born with cleft lips and palates and provide support to their families. I’ve found that it’s very comforting for parents to get advice from a medical professional who faced the same situation. My goal is to lead my patients to appropriate care so they can come out of it with a positive and optimistic outlook.

I know how frustrating ongoing medical care can be. Over the last two years, I underwent multiple surgeries to build bone for my palate in order to accommodate dental implants for my two front teeth.

Going through medical care as an adult was one of the many reasons I decided to start my own website called Smile with Simon and my blog Simon Says Smile Today. These sites offers support, information, and an opportunity to network with others affected by cleft lip and palate and other craniofacial conditions. I hope that others will benefit from my knowledge and children can find a space to navigate through difficult social situations, such as bullying.

Birds 300I’m also trying my hand at writing a children’s book about cleft lip and palate. The story is about Simon, a cardinal born with a separation in his beak. It will be a story of love, acceptance, and kindness. It will speak to the importance that a smile has on others. Smiling is so important for the soul!

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead -Nelson Mandela

Allyson Himelstein brings Smile Train to Dartmouth College

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The following blog was written by Smile Train Young Leadership Circle (YLC) Board Member Allyson Himelstein , Allyson discusses YLC Fundraising events that she has organized at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

I was invited to join Smile Train’s Young Leadership Circle in the summer of 2014, right around the time my boyfriend and I were moving to Hanover, New Hampshire, so he could begin at Tuck. I found a great job at Dartmouth, as well.

When I moved, I was initially concerned about being so far away from the action in New York City and the Young Leadership Circle. There would be no happy hours, no fun charitable gatherings, no meetings at Smile Train’s HQ office to greet new board members and eat pizza — activities that I really enjoy!

After things settled down a bit, I hosted a bake sale in the community center. It seemed like all the Tuck Partners—significant others of the students — contributed something delicious from homemade apple pie, to individually wrapped satchels of caramel toffee popcorn. We quickly brought in around $600 — who knew that Tuck students love to eat so many sweets!

A few months later, when the average temperature was -10°, I thought it would be nice to get sweaty at Dartmouth’s Alumni Gym. My neighbor, a spin instructor by night, happily conducted two back-to-back classes. I called it Spin for Smiles, and before the actual event, I stopped by every shop on Main Street in order to ask for gifts for the biker who put in the most effort and nearly all of the owners gave something — it’s so nice living in a small town where people say yes more than no.

Last week, I organized my favorite event so far. I called it Win a Date with a Hot Tuckie. This may sound familiar if you saw the highly acclaimed film, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. On the Thursday before Valentine’s Day, I partnered with two Tuck students to host a raffle for a few hours before the annual Valentine’s Day Massacre Hockey Game (no, it’s not as macabre as it sounds). Students bought tickets to win a date with one of four eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. The winners were announced with much fanfare in-between hockey periods. We made $630 in two hours! Tuck is one of the smallest business schools in the United States, so I was thrilled with the turn out.

I want to thank the community at the Tuck School of Business. They have allowed me to continue to support Smile Train and have gone above and beyond supporting all of the fundraisers I have planned. I can’t wait to see what the spring brings!

Dates auctioned off at Win a Date with a Hot Tuckie

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No, this is not false advertising – you won’t be buying tickets for a date with either of the women in the foreground. Instead you’d win a date with the perfect gentleman who is a big believer in letting his date bask in the spotlight.

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Need we say more? She is definitely an all-American girl, but unlike the mass-merchandised doppelganger she’s one-of-a-kind. You do not want to miss out on this lucky opportunity.

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Notice anything missing from this photo? Here’s a hint, it could be you. Don’t let the picture fool you though, this guys is a real charmer.

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We’re told that not only does she love giraffes, but that she also loves tripod, yoga, and has an affinity for tequila. Think you can make her fall in love with you?

Smile Train Programs Update

IMG_1181Mackinnon Engen serves as Vice President of Programs, helping to develop and strengthen Smile Train’s programs around the world to reach more children in need of cleft care. In her own words, she asked to give Smile Train supporters an update on her team’s plans for 2016.

I’m excited to share that we have already hit the ground running and have a number of exciting plans for Smile Train in 2016! Supporters of our programs often ask me what is new or coming down the pipeline, so I thought I would provide a sneak peek of a few new programs and efforts this year.

SNurse Training 300mile Train continues to invest more and more in our comprehensive care programs, such as speech therapy and orthodontics, so that all our patients can go on to live a full life. In January, Smile Train hosted its first speech therapy training in Ghana. With participants from across West Africa, the event helped pave the way for more children in the region to access critical speech services after their cleft surgery.

 

Haiti 300We are always aiming to grow our local partnerships with cleft teams so that we can help as many children as possible. Recently we launched new partnerships and programs in Haiti, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic. It is so inspiring to see the commitment these medical teams have to help children in their own communities. Smile Train’s support for surgery, training, equipment and other needs helps ensure that children no longer have to wait for life-changing treatment and their families can feel confident that the care being provided will be high-quality, safe, and completely free.

Awareness 300We work tirelessly to raise awareness about clefts as a treatable medical condition. The children we are trying to reach are often hidden away, shunned or isolated in their communities so our efforts to get the word out at the grassroots level are essential. This year, our Smile Train team in India has planned a series of cleft weeks across the country. While a child can get help from our programs all year round, a cleft week is a special time that the whole village comes together to help reach children with clefts in need. Our ambassadors and local partners spend time in the village market, places of worship, schools, and even going door to door in a campaign to educate the public about clefts and the opportunity for free treatment with a local Smile Train partner. These efforts help us reach hundreds more children who could otherwise remain left behind.

Here at Headquarters, we are also focusing on how we can continue to measure our impact and ensure that we are leveraging our donors’ support as best as possible around the developing world. We created and host the world’s largest cleft treatment database, Smile Train Express, so that we can track every single patient we serve and monitor the care they are receiving.  We are constantly updating this technology to ensure it meets our needs as our programs grow and expand, such as adding new features for speech therapy + orthodontics and adding new languages so it can be used seamlessly anywhere in the world.

While these are a few of our new efforts, one thing will never change: Smile Train and our partner hospitals around the world are working as hard as possible to make sure that each and every child with a cleft will receive the best possible care. We are looking forward to creating many more smiles together with you in 2016!

Smile Train Celebrates Partnership with Lifebox

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Smile Train thanks Lifebox for helping save lives and for being an invaluable partner over the past 4 years.

Since 2012, Lifebox has provided thousands of lifesaving pulse oximeters to Smile Train partners worldwide. The pulse oximeters measure the level of oxygen in a patient’s blood while under anesthesia during cleft surgery, sounding an early warning alarm if a patient is becoming short of oxygen and providing an opportunity to prevent brain damage and heart failure. Simply put, the pulse oximeters help save lives.

“This is a marvelous device that we use with all our surgical patients in the OR and post-operatively. It permits us to intervene to correct a problem much earlier than we were able to when relying on clinical signs. It is accurate, reliable, sturdy, simple to use by any level of healthcare worker and easy to teach. We send kudos to all who have contributed to this unique and worthwhile project. Many, many thanks for helping us and for the precious lives your efforts have saved.” Smile Train partner, Hôpital de District de Kolofata (Kolofata District Hospital), Cameroon

Chris Szydlo Power Of A Smile

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Former cleft patient and Smile Train company matching gift donor, Chris Szydlo, shares the reasons why he donates to Smile Train through his employer’s matching gift program.

What first inspired you to support Smile Train?
I was able to have three surgeries to correct my cleft lip because of my family’s healthcare plan—I know that others are not that fortunate. A new smile can restore the confidence of children ostracized for something completely out of their control. By giving them the ability to regain their pride and confidence, I know that we are making an immeasurable impact on them as individuals, their families and communities.

If you could give one piece of advice to a child with a cleft what would it be?
Stay positive and be proud of who you are. What makes you different can also be your greatest strength.

Why should others be inspired to donate to Smile Train?
Who doesn’t want to help someone smile? We spend money on presents, food, comedy shows, and an endless amount of other short-term means to make us smile. An investment toward a cleft surgery, through Smile Train, creates a smile for life!

What makes you smile?
Being able to make a positive impact in other people’s lives.

If you’re interested in your company matching your gift to Smile Train please visit smiletrain.org/donate/matching-gift.html

Jessica’s Unforgettable Journey to Indonesia

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I recently participated in my first Journey of Smiles trip. These trips provide Smile Train supporters the opportunity to visit partner hospitals and patients in the field. For me, there is nothing more impactful and rewarding than seeing first-hand how Smile Train gives children second chances at life, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to visit our partners in Indonesia.

Our first visit was to partner hospital Yaya Senyum Bali where we viewed a cleft lip surgery and visited their Smile House. The Smile House was created to offer patients and their families a place to stay and receive pre- and post-operative assistance. Many of our patients travel very long distances to reach our partner hospitals, especially in Indonesia, an archipelago of 18,307 islands! Some of our patients have never seen electricity or running water before they arrive in Bali.

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The staff at the Smile House provides more than just room and board for patients and their families, they also connect them with a larger network of people who are going through the same experience. During their time at the Smile House everyone is one big family.

Some people are so moved by their experience at the Smile House that they are inspired to give back. One former patient was so thankful for all that the Smile House provided for her, she decided to stay on and work as the Smile House’s cook.  She’s able to provide not just meals for those staying there, but support from someone who knows exactly what they are going through.

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From Bali, we flew to Bandung to meet the staff and patients at our partner hospital YPPCBL. Our entire group was humbled by the compassion with which the staff approached their efforts of helping children with clefts. They are constantly pushing themselves to try and find ways to do even more to help their patients. Their whole team, surgeons, speech therapists, social workers and administrators, are so wonderful that it’s not hard to imagine why the people at the cleft center have become like a second family for their patients.

After our time at YPPCBL, we visited former Smile Train patient Elka and her family, who live in a two room apartment on the outskirts of Bandung.

Elka received free cleft palate surgery at YPPCBL when she was three years old, two years later than when most babies receive cleft palate surgery. Repairing a cleft palate at that age caused Elka to develop a speech impairment and require years of speech therapy, provided for free at YPPCBL.

YPPCBL’s speech therapist, who works with Elka, accompanied us on the visit. It was so heartwarming to see the relationship that the speech therapist had with Elka. It felt like she was part of Elka’s family.

I am beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to travel to Indonesia, meet our local team there and share this experience with our supporters. Words cannot describe how inspiring it was to see our programs through their eyes. Without the support of our donors, none of this would be possible.

To find out how you can join us on a Journey of Smiles visit: smiletrain.org/journeyofsmiles

Ewa Rumprecht Power Of A Smile

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Ewa Rumprecht, Manager, Technology Projects (pictured above with medical partners in Myanmar) talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.

What first inspired you to work at Smile Train?
I was impressed by Smile Train’s focus on a single solvable problem. It was also important for me that Smile Train was building, supporting and strengthening our partner’s medical capacity rather than providing international aid as outsiders, without local knowledge.

How has your involvement with Smile Train made you look at the Power Of A Smile differently?
I see the Power Of A Smile as an immense number of children in need that are being helped by the generosity of the donors, dedication of the local doctors, medical staff, social workers and Smile Train’s efforts. The image of one million smiling faces cannot leave one unmoved.

What keeps you involved in Smile Train?
The difference that Smile Train makes in peoples’ lives. I am touched and motivated, every time I see an image of a mother leaning over her child after a cleft surgery with renewed hopes. I read accounts of a doctor who adopted a cleft patient he found chained to a tree, families walking for days for their new smiles, children learning to sing after their surgeries. A new smile makes great things happen.

What do you think the Power Of A Smile is?
A smile opens doors, increases confidence, and provides comfort at just the right moment.