Operation Smile was founded in 1982 when Dr. William (Bill) P. Magee, Jr., a plastic surgeon, and his wife, Kathleen (Kathy), a nurse and clinical social worker, traveled to the Philippines with a group of medical volunteers to repair children’s cleft lips and cleft palates.
What they found was overwhelming. “People pushed their babies at us.” recalls Kathy. “They tugged at our sleeves with tears in their eyes and begged us to help their children.” In Naga City, approximately 300 families arrived hoping their children would receive surgery, but the team could only treat 40 children. As they prepared to leave, the Magees made a promise they would return to help more children.
They began soliciting donations of surgical equipment and supplies from manufacturers, threw themselves into grassroots fundraising and assembled a volunteer team of 18 doctors, nurses and technicians for their own medical mission to the Philippines. They helped approximately 100 more patients, but again, hundreds still waited.
They saw the need and Operation Smile was born.
Today, Operation Smile is an international medical charity whose global network of thousands of credentialed medical volunteers from more than 80 countries is dedicated to helping improve the health and lives of children from more than 60 countries. We’ve provided more than 220,000 free surgical procedures for children and young adults born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. To build long-term sufficiency in resource poor environments, we train doctors and local medical professionals in our partner countries so they’re empowered to treat their local communities. We also donate medical equipment and supplies and provide year-round medical treatments through our worldwide centres.
Operation Smile launches in the United Kingdom
In June 2000, BBC1 aired the documentary “The Facemakers” about Operation Smile’s work globally. The interest from the public, both volunteers and supporters, led Operation Smile to begin the process of opening an office in the UK. In March 2002, Operation Smile UK gained registered charitable status and has since raised tens of millions of pounds and has sent countless volunteers on medical programs in developing countries throughout the world.