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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mission creates new smiles

Mission creates new smiles


A team of American medics has spent a week in the Kingdom performing

life-changing surgery on those who otherwise could not access treatment

Vandy Rattana

Two children with cleft palates wait among other patients at the Children’s Surgical Center in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

THE operating room is crowded. Three

separate teams of surgeons are hard at work: One patient is having his

tonsils extracted, another man has just had a thyroid tumor the size of

a fist removed from his throat. Outside, a line of patients stretches

away into the distance - hundreds of people hoping for surgery that may

change their lives forever.

For more than a week, a medical team from the American Tripler Army

Medical Center and the US Air Force have been carrying out a Sight,

Sound and Smile medical mission in Cambodia.

Funded by the Peace through Health Care initiative, the mission aims to

provide free surgical care for patients that otherwise could not afford

such treatment.

Dr Mitchell Ramsey, an ear, nose and throat surgeon and the leader of

the medical team that consists of a dozen surgeons, an

anaesthesiologist, nurses and a medical engineer, said the team is

focusing on disorders that can be life-threatening or affect a person's

ability to work, to eat, to hear or to see, adding that about 200

patients have already been screened for surgery.

"We won't be able to do surgery on all of them this year, but we hope

to come back next year. There are just a lot of needs ... and it is

hard to tell them that we can't operate this time." said Dr Phalyka

Oum, a Cambodian physician who helped to coordinate the mission along

with the US Embassy, the Children's Surgical Center (CSC) and various


I had thyroid disease for 12 years and it made me dizzy and exhausted.

Changing lives

The Sight, Sound and Smile mission is set to change the lives of

approximately 70 patients who will receive surgery to correct loss of

vision or hearing, head or neck tumours and cranial or facial problems

such as a cleft lip or palate.

Chou Yun, 28, from Prey Veng is one of these lucky patients. She had

surgery to cure her thyroid disease two days ago and is already

noticing the difference. Though she is sore from the operation, she can

now breathe better and her voice problems have subsided. "I had thyroid

disease for 12 years and it made me dizzy and exhausted. I didn't have

it cured because I didn't have the $300 for the operation."

According to Ramsey, the team has been overwhelmed with thyroids,

goiters and tumours as well as many incidents of chronic ear

infections. "We have seen a huge spectrum of very far advanced

disorders that generally are not seen in the US," said Ramsey.

‘‘Part of the mission objective has been to exchange ideas and share

information.  Coming from the US, of course, we bring some information

that is useful here, but we also get just as much information,

techniques and new experiences that benefit us and help us learn," he


‘‘This without doubt has been the most gratifying experience in my

career. To be able to come and meet such gracious people who have such

need," Ramsey said. ‘‘I walk home every night and I am on cloud nine

because of the experiences I'm having."



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