The bus stopped outside the gates of Miller Adventist Hospital in Cebu City. Dozens of medical and non-medical volunteers filed off the bus and onto the hospital grounds taking photos as they walked in, excited to start a day of providing healthcare evaluations more than 250 patients who were already upstairs waiting.
One volunteer, Shandra Kight a pre- and post-operative nurse from Colorado, paused for a moment before walking in. She looked up at the hospital sign and snapped an iPhone photo, her eyes filling with tears, but still smiling.
“I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this moment,” Kight said. “This is my purpose in life. I know it.”
“That sounds corny,” she added, laughing it off and walking in with the last of the volunteers.
For the next 12 hours, Kight and an international volunteer medical team would evaluate a total of 267 patients with cleft lip and cleft palate, ranging in age from two months to mid-30s. Today is the first day of Operation Smile’s medical mission in Cebu, one of the six sites of the “Gift of Smiles” mega mission in which more than 750 patients around the Philippines are scheduled to receive reconstructive surgery.
This is Kight’s first time volunteering with Operation Smile. But the 27-year-old, who was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, has known about the organization since she was in elementary school.
“Whenever I’d see anything that had to do with Operation Smile, I’d cut it out and tape it to the wall in my room,” Kight said. “Watching Operation Smile commercials really made me want to be a nurse and help other kids like me.”
On screening day, hundreds of people packed a gymnasium at the top floor of the hospital under a metal roof but open to the heat and humidity of Cebu summers. Kight’s smile and enthusiasm never faded even as exhaustion set in.
“Seeing so many kids today, I just kind of felt at home, like this is where I belong,” Kight said. “It was almost like the kids and their parents know that I’ve been through what their baby is about to go through and that gave them some sort of peace.”
As a young child, Kight was determined to be a nurse, to work with children and to be an Operation Smile volunteer. Kight said she wasn’t outcast like some of the children she would see on Operation Smile commercials, but she would get bullied and continues to attract lingering stares. “Everybody has lasting scars in their life, everybody goes through trials and tribulations — but I just get to carry mine on my face for everyone to see,” Kight said. “And it sounds weird, but it’s made me a better nurse because of it.”