Families +SocialGood: Dr. Ruben Ayala's Message of Healing and Hope

“It takes so much more than medicine to achieve health.”

– Dr. Ruben Ayala, Operation Smile Chief Medical Officer.

As part of the first-ever Families +SocialGood event in London, presented by the United Nations Foundation and Johnson & Johnson, Dr. Ruben Ayala, Operation Smile Chief Medical Officer, gave an impassioned appeal for increased access to safe surgery.

The event featured experts and advocates from global organisations, corporations and public institutions gathering to share ideas and inspire action to tackle some of the world’s most critical challenges for families. Ruben shared his own personal realisation that families need to be able to access safe, effective and timely surgery.

“The very first time I was exposed to the importance of safe surgery was in my hometown of David, Panama. I was 17 at the time and I had never seen a child with a cleft. And all of the sudden, I was exposed to hundreds of them at the same time.

“And I said, ‘Look at them line up in the screening process.’ I started to wonder, ‘Where have these kids been and why have they not received the safe surgery that they needed?’. And I said, ‘Look at the faces of the moms and the children and their sadness and anxiety and the despair.’

“And I started to think about, ‘Wow, these are the people in my country. These are the women and children and fathers in the mountains who are hidden who don’t really stand a chance until somebody actually cares enough to do something to help them.’”

In the 25 years since Ruben became a part of the organisation, Operation Smile Panama has been able to provide cleft surgery to every adult, teen and child in need. There, as in Honduras and Thailand, the only patients in need of cleft surgery are babies and toddlers who are scheduled to receive their procedures as soon as they are old enough and healthy enough. Their cleft care is SET: safe, effective and timely.

As Ruben passionately stated, it really does take so much more than medicine to achieve good health for people living in resource-poor places. It takes the kind of compassion and generosity we see our volunteer community give so selflessly, day in and day out. As we work together to make our shared vision of global access to safe surgery a reality, we are reminded by Ruben of the fundamental ideals that inspired the Until We Heal movement.

“We believe that access to safe surgery is an essential component of health care and a basic human right. If you can save someone’s life, if they can avoid having to live with disability, why should [their surgery] be optional?”

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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President