About Operation Smile and Cleft Conditions

What does Operation Smile do?

Operation Smile revolutionised cleft surgery globally in 1982. We have nearly four decades of experience as one of the largest surgical volunteer-based non-profits.

Operation Smile staff, its private-public partnerships and thousands of volunteers have improved the health and dignity of patients with cleft conditions. We’ve helped them to better breathe, eat, speak and live lives of greater quality and confidence. 

One cleft surgery can transform a child’s life in as little as 45 minutes. Operation Smile is committed to providing patients with health that lasts. We offer patients additional surgeries, dentistry, psychological services, speech therapy and other essential cleft treatments. Our training and education programmes elevate local surgical standards and entire health systems. We aid safe surgery and enable a global network to reach more people earlier in their lives. 

How did Operation Smile start?

Operation Smile was founded in 1982. Dr. William (Bill) P. Magee, Jr., a plastic surgeon, and his wife, Kathleen (Kathy), a nurse and clinical social worker, travelled to the Philippines with a group of medical volunteers to repair children’s cleft lips and cleft palates.

What countries does Operation Smile go to?

We currently provide world-class cleft care in more than 30 countries supported by more than 6,000 volunteers from 60 countries.

How much does it cost Operation Smile to perform a life-changing cleft surgery?

As little as €180 helps provide surgery to a child with a cleft condition. This is possible thanks to the generous contributions of medical professionals, who volunteer their time and expertise. Corporations also donate critical supplies and equipment necessary for safe surgery. This cost includes expenses incurred for essential medical team members to be at a surgical programme, the expenses for additional required supplies and cargo shipping costs. 

Smiling girl surrounded by friends holding a photo of herself before cleft surgery by Operation Smile

Sandra, one of the hundreds of thousands of children we’ve provided life-changing cleft care to.

About Cleft Conditions

What is cleft lip and cleft palate, and how often do cleft conditions occur?

A cleft condition is a gap in the mouth that didn’t close during the early stages of pregnancy. It is estimated that, worldwide, a child is born every three minutes with a cleft condition — about one in every 500 to 750 births. Sometimes cleft condition can be easy to see because it’s an opening in the lip. Other times, it’s harder to tell if someone was born with a cleft condition because it’s an opening in the roof of their mouth, which is called the palate.

Why do cleft conditions happen and can they be be prevented?

There are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a cleft condition. While some causes are still unknown, genetics and family history, pre-existing medical conditions, poor nutrition and exposure to harmful environmental substances can affect the healthy development of a baby. As a result, these factors could contribute to a baby being born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate.

Does a cleft condition cause health issues for a child?

Depending on the type and severity, a cleft condition can create severe health issues for a child if it’s not treated. It’s common for babies to have difficulty with feeding, which can lead to malnutrition or even starvation. Recurring ear infections can occur, which can lead to hearing loss. Jaw and dental development can also be affected.

For people with cleft conditions, especially those with cleft palate, speech and language development can also be hindered. Children may also suffer from bullying and social isolation.

Cleft surgery is vital to ensuring a child will live a happier and healthier life. But it acts as only a single step along the path of a patient’s journey toward healing. This is why the comprehensive care we provide patients after surgery is essential for the people we serve. We do this at our care centres in countries like Morocco, Colombia and India.

Can cleft lip and cleft palate be repaired?

With surgery, a child suffering from cleft lip and/or cleft palate can have a brand-new, beautiful smile. In an ideal situation, a paediatrician and a reconstructive plastic surgeon work with a child’s parents soon after the child’s birth to choose the best timing for surgery.

Most surgeons agree that a cleft lip should be repaired by the time a baby is 3 months old. A cleft palate between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Several subsequent surgeries may also be required throughout one’s childhood and adolescence.

For many of the patients and families we serve however, early surgical intervention isn’t an option. This is due to a lack of financial resources, access to qualified medical staff and other factors. Operation Smile remains dedicated to finding these families around the world. By providing them with surgery and ongoing care earlier in life they can live happier and healthier lives.

FAQ's About Operation Smile

Is Operation Smile a real charity?

Operation Smile Ireland is a registered charity with the Charities Regulator Ireland. We are proudly members of the Charities Institute Ireland. Additionally, Operation Smile Ireland is a signatory to the Code of Good Practice developed by Comhlámh and the Dóchas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages.

Is Operation Smile the same as Smile Train?

Operation Smile undertakes projects in the developing world to provide free reconstructive surgery to children and young adults. In addition to this, we provide free education and training to local doctors, nurses and surgeons to the same global standard of care as those provided in Ireland and United States. Further to this, Operation Smile provides all the equipment and support needed to continue these operations long after the temporary team has gone.  

Operation Smile is one of the largest volunteer groups in the world. Thousands of doctors and nurses give up their personal time to attend medical projects across the Globe. Through this generosity, we are able to provide free reconstructive surgery to children and young adults all year round. 

In contrast, Smile Train provide grants to doctors in developing countries in order for them to undertake operations on children with cleft lips.

What is the best cleft palate charity?

Operation Smile prides itself in our nearly four decades of experience as one of the largest surgical volunteer-based non-profits.

Who runs Operation Smile?

The current Board of Directors of Operation Smile Ireland maintains responsibility for governance and administrative issues. They also provide leadership and open doors for new fundraising opportunities to accelerate the growth of Operation Smile Ireland. The Board of Directors is also responsible for signing off our annual, independently audited accounts found in our Financial Information section. All directors are volunteers, and do not receive compensation of any kind.

What type of organisation is Operation Smile?

Operation Smile is a global non-profit dedicated to creating solutions that deliver safe surgery to people where it’s needed most through our expertise in treating cleft lip and cleft palate. 

Operation Smile Ireland is a registered charity with the Charities Regulator Ireland. We are proudly members of the Charities Institute Ireland. Additionally, Operation Smile Ireland is a signatory to the Code of Good Practice developed by Comhlámh and the Dóchas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages. 

Who is the CEO of Operation Smile?

The CEO of Operation Smile Ireland is Teri Cosgrove. Serving in this position since Operation Smile Ireland was founded in 2004, Teri has never drawn a salary.

Who much does the CEO of Operation Smile make?

Operation Smile Ireland’s CEO, Teri Cosgrove, is a volunteer and has never drawn a salary.

What percentage of donation goes to Operation Smile?

For every euro donated to Operation Smile Ireland, €0.71c goes directly to fund our overseas programmes. Operation Smile Ireland has a special relationship with a partner hospital in Jimma, Ethiopia.

If you would like additional information please contact us at info@operationsmile.ie or by calling 01-667 6659.

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