I joined Operation Smile in 1991 when I was a plastic surgery resident back in Colombia.
Operation Smile was much smaller back then, and I had the opportunity to get to know and work alongside Bill and Kathy Magee. In them, I saw an incredibly capable and determined couple who wanted to help people in the way they knew best. I saw an organization that was doing effective work and being led in the right direction. After that, it took little convincing for me to volunteer on as many missions as I could.
On every mission I’m a part of, I’m deeply touched by the gratitude of the families we aid.
This work is very different than the regular reconstructive work that I do in my practice at home in Canada. Canadian kids born with these kinds of malformations are usually spared the feeling of being different, as we have a developed health system where they are almost always dealt with at birth. In developing countries, many people never receive medical attention. When I meet these kids, they are used to looking different, and suffer the effects of social ostracization. The parents often take it worse.
Nothing beats seeing the faces on the kids and their families when, in a simple procedure, I can change their whole outlook on life. It’s an incredible moment.
If you think about it, I get way more back than what I put in by volunteering. To this day, I’m shocked by how much of an impact I can make with just a 45-minute procedure that transforms people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope to families, giving them a second chance. We don’t get to choose where or how we are born. Operation Smile helps those of us who need it, anywhere we are.
As someone who was born and grew up in a developing country, I’ve witnessed firsthand how, by accident of birth, one can end up with wildly different health options. I was lucky, but others were not. So I’m happy to do my part, with the skills I have, to help those who need it.
Thank you to all of our Canadians supporters for turning dreams and hopes into reality, being good examples and inspiring us to continue building a better world.