Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Filipino Children

by Smile Train

Smile Train patient HAnef Abdul Samad before free cleft lip surgeryMarikina City, Philippines — When Hanef Abdul Samad was born with a cleft lip or “bingot,” his mother saved as much money as she could to travel nearly 500 miles from the conflict-affected island of Mindanao to Manila to find help. She left her home, her family, and everything she had ever known for the slim chance that her son’s cleft lip could somehow be fixed. Shortly after they arrived in Manila, Hanef was lucky to be screened and scheduled for free cleft surgery by a medical mission group from the USA. All of her hopes had come true. Until the medical mission group suffered from internal problems and Hanef’s surgery was among those cancelled.

Hanef and many more who had been scheduled for surgery would not receive it as the mission group had to leave shortly after they corrected the problems that stalled their good work. Angry at the twists of fate that continually kept her son from a normal life, dejected and forlorn, Hanef’s mother continued on her quest to help her son with an even heavier heart. Unable to find work and watch her son, she reached out to a local charitable organization to help her get on her feet. The organization quickly referred her to a relatively new Smile Train partner, Marikina St. Vincent Hospital. Fearing further disappointment, she was very hesitant to bring Hanef in, but realized that for Hanef, she could never abandon hope.

Smile Train patient HAnef Abdul Samad after free cleft lip surgery

Within days, Hanef received free cleft surgery under skilled surgeon Dr. Edmundo Mercado and a second chance at life. His mother was relieved of her fears and disappointment and with the help of a Smile Train Smile Grant and the local charity, they were able to begin the long journey home: promising to spread the word about Smile Train.

Marikina St. Vincent Hospital Smile Train cleft patients and staff

Having a permanent, local presence where partner hospitals can provide surgery year-round holds Smile Train to our promise to never turn a child away and ensures that temporary setbacks and timetables will not result in cancelled surgeries and lost hope.

Chelsea Joy Casipit Before Smile Train Surgery
Chelsea Joy Casipit Before Smile Train Surgery

Chelsea Joy Casipit certainly has a reason to show off her amazing new smile! She recently underwent successful cleft lip surgery at Smile Train partner Noordhoof Craniofacial Foundation Philippines. Chelsea's surgery was performed by expert surgeon Dr. Glenda H. De Villa and the results couldn't be better. One-year-old Chelsea is young enough to never know the torment, pain, and isolation that accompany a life with an unrepaired cleft. Thanks to Smile Train donors and our wonderful partner hospital, Chelsea has been given a second chance at a normal life.

Chelsea Joy Casipit After Smile Train Surgery
Chelsea Joy Casipit After Smile Train Surgery


One of our Smile Train partners, Impact Philippines, which runs four hospitals, recently sent us these pictures along with a special note from the mother of one of our patients. She doesn't speak English, but Dr. Tian, who performed this great surgery, translated for us.

"I thank you very much for the help you've done to my child.  I hope you can continue to help a lot more children. You have made my child beautiful. Thank you very much to all who have helped!"

Dr. Tian wanted to wait until the post operation swelling had gone down and the nurses could finish cleaning her face, but her grandmother insisted that they take the picture with her first new smile.

On their behalf and on behalf of all of our patients and their families, thank you for your support.

In 2009, Smile Train awarded a grant to Cleftworks Association which provided funding for free cleft surgery for 50 patients. Located in Davao City, this group works to provide surgeries for underprivileged children born with complex facial deformities. In their end of year report, the group describes the partnership by saying, "Smile Train’s grant greatly supplemented the cleft program’s funding for surgical treatment cost. It eased the physician’s burden to look for treatment funding for poor patients and concentrate on surgical cleft care, dental access and speech counselling by competent specialists. The attached document shares the stories and before and after pictures of three patients helped by this grant, Angel, Jonathan and Christopher.

The operating room
The operating room

Bill Brower is a Field Program Officer with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout South and Southeast Asia. On March 4th he visited the hospital and cleft center of the Philippine Band of Mercy, implementing partner of the Smile Train in Quezon City. His “Postcard” from the visit:

With a master’s degree focusing on the principles of sustainable development, my skepticism is piqued when I hear an organization offering “free” services (due to a corresponding lack of a sense of ownership and propagation of a “handout” mentality). After seeing the work that PBM does, I see that there are exceptions. Working exclusively with low-income families and primarily young children, PBM surgeons are able to remedy a cleft lip—an affliction still viewed by some in the Philippines as a “curse” able to “infect” others around you—in about half an hour. These patients have no other option and appeared grateful of what PBM does.

And PBM’s services are far from blind charity. As I wrote in a recent blog (link below), they are able to offer these free surgeries through smart management: keeping costs low and some creative financing. They run a Plastic Surgery Fellowship, which helps surgeons get specialized training. In exchange for the assistance, upon completing the course the doctors agree to volunteer time at the PBM facility. This helps them keep the costs for the surgeries down to about one-tenth of that of private practices, according to Jesus Perez Cardenas, the president of PBM. Their primary source of income, which covers much of the subsidized cost of the surgery, is not grants but selling extra space in their parking lot and office building in the bustling heart of metro Manila.

The hospital and cleft center were clean and seemed well run. The little patients and their mothers appeared to be well tended to before and after the surgery. Going between the two groups was moving. While not quite yet up for a smile, you could see that the recovering patients would not forget PBM anytime soon.

President of PBM Jesus Perez Cardenas
President of PBM Jesus Perez Cardenas
PBM doctors
PBM doctors



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Organization Information

Smile Train

Location: New York - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Smile Train
Project Leader:
Adina Wexelberg-Clouser
Donor Relations Associate
New York, NY United States

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