A Journey of Smiles Halfway Around the World

Guest blogger, William Horan, Smile Train’s Vice President, Principal and Planned Giving talks about his recent trip to Vietnam to see our local in-country medical partners and programs in action.

I recently traveled to Vietnam with my 28-year-old son Sean, who is an avid traveler and who has faced many challenges in his life. I wanted him to see what kids with clefts experience on the other side of the world.

My son and I were also joined by Smile Train’s Country Manager, Vietnam Nguyễn Trí Dũng, who we call Dzung. Dzung coordinated our partner visits and helped make us feel comfortable and welcome after our long journey. He also shared some personal insights into Vietnam’s often-difficult past, which made the trip a terrific learning experience even beyond Smile Train. Bill

We visited two very contrasting partner hospitals, the National Hospital of Odonto and Stomatology in Hanoi and the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children in Da Nang. We toured both hospitals and met the local surgeons, nurses, speech therapists and patients. What was evident at both hospitals was a genuine and heartfelt gratitude for the Smile Train partnership. Both teams spoke glowingly of how our support has made a difference in their ability to treat children with clefts. Both hospitals embrace our partnership model.

The highlight of the trip was no doubt visiting twin brothers Don and Dai (their names translate to “Big Time” and “Rumor”) at their school and meeting their family. The boys were born with very severe clefts, but now at four-years-old you could hardly tell. They both look great, are adorable and happy, and were probably wondering what all the fuss was about!

After visiting the boys’ school, we went to visit their home. The boys live three hours from Hanoi up in very picturesque hills, amidst rice patties and water buffalo. It was incredibly serene and peaceful there. As Sean and I walked on a dike above the rice patties, we were relaxed and fulfilled, and it was at that moment that I really understood the meaning of Smile Train.

Bill 2

Smile Train Surgeons and a Beauty Queen Deliver Smiles in Vietnam

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.”

A New Life for an Infant Abandoned at Birth

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – A nurse at Cho Ray Hospital happily carried newborn Hong Binh An from the maternity ward to the room where his parents were staying, only to find it empty. The baby’s parents were gone along with all of their belongings as if they had never been there. She never knew why they abandoned their newborn son at the hospital, whether they feared that Binh An’s cleft was an evil omen or were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to take care of him; only that they were gone and the baby she held in her hands had no home to go to because of his cleft lip.Orphan cleft lip patient with staff before surgery

Luckily, the hospital’s compassionate staff took it upon themselves to take care of Hong Binh An at the maternity ward until he was old enough to be taken to a nearby orphanage. Hong Binh An’s curiosity and playfulness quickly won the hearts of everyone at the orphanage. At 8 months old, he was finally strong enough for surgery and two of the orphanage’s staff brought Binh An to Smile Train partner hospital Benh Vien Nhi Dong II.

Cleft lip patient after sugeryOn July 4, 2011, Binh An received free cleft lip surgery under the skilled hands of Dr. Luu Dinh Tru. After a few days of recovery, Binh An was discharged to the orphanage, his new smile matching his curious and outgoing personality. Thanks to Smile Train donors and our local partner hospital, he has been given a second chance at a normal life. The staff at the orphanage know that with his new smile, Binh An will soon be adopted by a loving family.