Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Operation Smile performs 150 surgeries

Operation Smile performs 150 surgeries

Operation Smile performs 150 surgeries

Nine -year-old Cheang Chamrong, patient #253, has made his way to the most important

station in the medical evaluation line: the plastic surgeons.

Australian doctor David Chong and Canadian doctor David Jewer determine that Cheang

has a cleft lip only - his palate is intact - and will receive Priority 1 status,

given his youth and otherwise good health. He's lucky because that status all but

guarantees he will receive surgery. Others are rejected because they lack the health

to undergo surgery or have a deformity too severe.

About one in 500 children are born with a cleft in the developing world and over

20,000 children and adults in Cambodia have clefts.

In honor of its 25th anniversary, Operation Smile organized a medical mission in

25 countries November 8-16 with free treatment for 5,000 children born with cleft

lips and palates whose families can't afford surgery.

In Cambodia, the charity mission at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital planned

to operate on about 150 children, aided by the efforts of 75 medical volunteers.

During two days of screening, doctors profiled 269 candidates who came from around

Cambodia. Most had never seen a doctor before, said Fleur Childs, Director of Operation

Smile Cambodia. The doctors assessed the patients' condition and assigned a priority.

"He is very embarrassed. He does not want to go to school because they laugh

at him," Bin Sophon said of his son Cheang. "If they sew him up nice, he'll

go to school without being embarrassed and be able to get good grades."

"It's difficult because they talk about me. If they could sew up my mouth, it

would be easy, I would not be embarrassed," said Cheang.

Clefts can make eating and drinking difficult, lead to ear and dental problems, as

well as inhibit a child's speech development.

Speech pathologist Alice Smith said sometimes children with cleft lips and palates

are not allowed to go to school because the other children have problems understanding

them. Buddhist precepts do not make life easier for people in Cambodia with such

defects. Even Sophon said, "I believe that people who have sinned in past lives

are born with deformities and other problems."

Parents at the hospital emphasized, more than anything, wanting their children to

attend school and participate in class.

Three mothers waited in a room on the third floor of the hospital serving as their

living quarters for the duration of their stay. For all three, it was the first time

they've stepped foot in a surgical facility.

"I wanted to find a place that would help him but I didn't know where to go.

I went to the local doctor but they didn't know what to do," said Chim Chaerat.

Another mother, who made the 400km trip from Mondolkiri with her three-year-old daughter,

said "We're all scared our children will not get the surgery. I've come from

far away and saved lots of money to make the trip."

The surgery list was posted and Cheang was scheduled for surgery November 12. His

surgery was successful.

Sophon explained that the family heard about the free surgeries at the beginning

of the year and that he wanted to bring his son in March, when Operation Smile last

came to Cambodia, but work prevented him from making the trip.

In the future, Operation Smile hopes to build a clinic where it can treat patients

year round in Cambodia.

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