Dental Professionals Click Here!


Changing lives one smile at a time

With Jessica Simpson and other celebrities helping to raise awareness, Operation Smile is bringing new hope to children born with facial deformities.

Actress and singer Jessica Simpson speaks often of a little Kenyan child named Boke who she met during a volunteer medical mission to Nakuru, Kenya in October 2005. Simpson was with a team of Operation Smile volunteers. Operation Smile is a worldwide children's medical charity dedicated to treating children around the world born with facial deformities.

Jessica Simpson working with Operation Smile
On a volunteer medical mission with Operation Smile a little Kenyan girl named Boke touched Jessica Simpson's heart. (photo by Joe Simpson)

During their two-week mission, the medical team of doctors, nurses and dental professionals treated over 250 children. But it was the little 1 1/2-year old girl who made the biggest impression on the star. Simpson stayed with Boke from her initial evaluation through her surgery and recovery. She was even more touched by the efforts the little girl's father made to bring Boke to the mission site - he sold one of the family's six cows, his primary source of income, to pay for the twelve-hour trip to Nakuru.

The aim of Operation Smile is to bring what is the norm in this country to the rest of the world. For 26 years, Operation Smile has organized and coordinated medical missions around the world for one purpose — to give each child they treat the chance to smile without embarrassment. According to the organization, their medical and dental volunteers have treated more than 115,000 children in 33 countries over the last 26 years, including over 9,200 free surgeries last year.

It all began with a New Jersey couple's participation in a medical mission to the Philippines in 1982. Dr. William Magee, a plastic surgeon, and his wife Kathleen, a nurse and social worker, joined a group of medical volunteers who traveled to Naga City on a short-term mission to help repair cleft deformities in children. The experience left them thrilled and dismayed - excitement for the results in the children they were able to treat, angst for the 200 that had to be turned away.

That experience deepened Simpson's commitment to use her celebrity to highlight the work of Operation Smile. "My experience in Kenya with Operation Smile was incredible. To witness the truly miraculous transformations in the lives of so many desperate needy children was both powerful and personally rewarding," says Simpson.

Cleft lips and palates affect individuals in many ways, but it is the emotional and social toll from their facial disfigurement that brings the most anguish. Their self-image and involvement with others can be deeply affected, especially their all-important ability to smile.

Fortunately though, it is an anguish that has been nearly eradicated in the United States through modern plastic surgical techniques. Of the 1 in 800 U.S. births that result in cleft lip or palate, most are corrected during the baby's first week after birth.

Infants in the developing world, however, are not so fortunate. The global rate of occurrence is 1 in 500 births, and most are not corrected — many nations lack the surgical facilities and doctor training in the techniques necessary to treat these children. Some of these nations have cultural beliefs that subject children with uncorrected facial deformities and their families to a lifetime of social ostracism.

Operation Smile CEO Dr. Bill Magee
Operation Smile CEO and Co-founder Dr. Bill Magee (center) with a patient and father during a medical mission in Asuncion, Paraguay. (Photo by Will Kerner)

The aim of Operation Smile is to bring what is the norm in this country to the rest of the world. For 26 years, Operation Smile has organized and coordinated medical missions around the world for one purpose — to give each child they treat the chance to smile without embarrassment. According to the organization, their medical and dental volunteers have treated more than 115,000 children in 33 countries over the last 26 years, including over 9,200 free surgeries last year.

It all began with a New Jersey couple's participation in a medical mission to the Philippines in 1982. Dr. William Magee, a plastic surgeon, and his wife Kathleen, a nurse and social worker, joined a group of medical volunteers who traveled to Naga City on a short-term mission to help repair cleft deformities in children. The experience left them thrilled and dismayed — excitement for the results in the children they were able to treat, angst for the 200 that had to be turned away.

During an interview several years ago, Dr. Magee explained why their trip to the Philippines inspired them to start Operation Smile. "It was guilt — we saw hundreds of children and saw many more turned away. We knew that this group was not planning to return. So we planned another trip, but when we saw how many people were suffering because of their facial deformities, we had to keep on going back."

Today, Operation Smile oversees not only medical missions, but an array of educational and research programs. The organization has brought hundreds of doctors from around the world to the United States to receive specialty training in surgical techniques. Operation Smile also conducts research to improve the future of children born with facial deformities.

Molly Sims working with Operation Smile
During a 2007 medical mission to Lima, Peru, Molly Sims holds Christopher while he has his photo taken during screening. (Photo by Eric Overman)

The obvious impact of their work has brought them broad support, including a number of celebrities. Billy Bush, host of Access Hollywood; Molly Sims, star of the television program Las Vegas and one of today's most well-known models; and Roma Downey, who starred in the television program Touched by an Angel, lend their support as "Smile Ambassadors" to build awareness for Operation Smile.

Jessica Simpson is one of the most committed and involved of Operation Smile's spokespersons. A friend introduced her to the organization and in 2003, she became Operation Smile's International Youth Ambassador. That same year, one of the two finalists on The Apprentice television show organized a benefit concert for Operation Smile as his final project, headlined by Simpson at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Featured on the show's season finale, the concert raised over $70,000, including a $25,000 on-stage pledge from show host Donald Trump.

It was her 2005 Kenyan trip, though, that truly solidified Simpson's role in the organization. Several months later in March 2006, she accompanied Dr. Magee to Capitol Hill to meet with several members of Congress and their staffs. The meetings served to highlight not only the efforts to transform the lives and smiles of those children they were able to treat, but also Operation Smile's role in reinforcing the United States' efforts to promote international peace and aid.

Last year, during Operation Smile's 25th Anniversary Gala in Los Angeles, Simpson spoke from the heart about not only the life-changes the organization brings to children but also the effects on her own life, and the lives of all those involved with Operation Smile. She movingly expressed what motivates everyone willing to give of their time, talents and treasure for children with facial deformities: "I hope you understand how sincere my heart is when I tell you that these kids [around the world] deserve to smile."

Thanks to celebrities like Jessica Simpson, the public is becoming more aware of Operation Smile's work. And, thanks to its many volunteers, donors and supporters, thousands of children have something to smile about.

To make a difference in a child's life you can donate by visiting their website at www.operationsmile.org or calling 1-888-OPSMILE.



Enter to Win a Smile Makeover.