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15 October 2011

Marrakech, Morocco: Oct. 7-15, 2011

Our corporate partner, Ethicon, is volunteering with our team in Marrakech to transform the lives of children born with facial deformities.

October 12, 2011

130 new smiles this week and counting

There are some feelings that just cannot be expressed in words. The same way that you can’t explain the feeling of losing a person you cared for, or how it feels to be loved, it is impossible (at least for me) to express how it feels to see a child leave the surgery room with a fixed cleft lip, or the feeling when you look at their mothers holding them after surgery. Some things you just can’t explain.

We have been fortunate to live this experience with Operation Smile. The mission continues but we have to go back to our lives. It is hard to leave it all behind, leave those kids, the ones who are in the OR, the ones in the recovery room, the ones who are still waiting for their surgery…. So many kids who have been touched by Operation Smile; so many kids who have touched us.

We have seen many kids, and also teenagers, go through surgery these days (30 surgeries on average each day with just 5 OR tables). Every child, every story is precious to us. We followed them through screening, played with them, consoled their moms, and watched them in the OR and the recovery room. We have lived how their lives were transformed!

Sanaa's Story

There is one story in particular that I would like to share with you, it is the story of Sanaa. Sanaa is 10 years old and lives in Safi, 150 kilometers away from Marrakech.

Most kids like her don’t go to school because they normally hide their faces and stay home. But Sanaa is very brave and her cleft lip and cleft palate didn’t stop her from going to school. At school she has friends like any other kid, but sometimes her friends tell her “how can you look at yourself in the mirror? You look like a monster.”

Sanaa is an orphan. She has a foster family but lives in very poor conditions and they don’t have the means for surgery to heal her cleft lip and cleft palate. It was her teacher, Abder, who brought her to Operation Smile. He knew about the medical mission through the internet and collected money among his friends to rent a car and bring Sanaa to the mission, together with a friend that could drive the car.

We met Sanaa on the day she was waiting for screening. In just a few minutes she had won our hearts. She was very cheerful and even through the toughest moments of screening she was smiling, a smile that despite her cleft lip was, to all of us, a beautiful smile. And next to her, unconditionally, was always her teacher.

Sanaa had surgery today. She wore her best outfit for the occasion and she did her hair too, but we noticed that her feet were dirty… Her shoes had holes in them, even the best one she had picked for the special day.

The surgery was long, longer than any other, because the surgeons had to repair both her palate and her lip. Despite the surgeons and their teams doing 14-hours of surgery every day nonstop, they always give their best work with a warm heart in every surgery they perform.

We saw Sanaa awake from the surgery before we had to leave - she looked beautiful! And sitting next to her, was her teacher. We can't wait to hear more from her from our colleagues who have stayed at the mission. We have no doubt that with her joy, intelligence, attitude, braveness… and with her teacher next to her, she will do big things in her life.

There are many Sanaas in the world, with different names and different faces. Our work cannot end here as the world needs many “teachers” and Operation Smile medical missions. Like I read once in an Operation Smile video: There are so many things in the world we can’t change, but this is something we have the power to change…together.

Thanks to her teacher and to Operation Smile for making a difference in a young Moroccan girl’s life.

- Maria Pardo, Ethicon EMEA ambassador from Spain

- Photos by Marc Ascher, Photographer, Operation Smile

October 10, 2011

Giving Hearts

It is a privilege to be surrounded by so many giving hearts. Each and every one of them made this medical mission possible and it is because of them that so many smiles are restored and lives were changed this week.

As soon as someone walks in the Operation Smile site they receive a welcoming smile, are treated with kindness and respect, and are taken care of by the best professionals. Every volunteer gives their best to take care of everyone that walks through the door.

Today I would like to talk to you about three teams of people who have made this medical mission possible, sharing their time, energy and happiness with the ones who need it the most: Operation Smile (international and local teams), the medical volunteers from all over the world and the local Ethicon EMEA team. They all made this possible.

Operation Smile has two teams working together: their international volunteers coming from the U.S. and other countries, and their local Moroccan volunteer team.

Fouzia is the co-founder and Vice President of Operation Smile in Morocco. She used to be a Vice President at Citibank in Morocco but decided to leave her career to lead the local Operation Smile subsidiary full-time. It is amazing to see her tenderness when she talks to the kids.

Yesterday, a girl was sharing her story with us and Fouzia couldn't hold back the tears. You can really see how Fouzia and her team really care for every patient and put their hearts in each of them.

Many surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, nurses and other medical professionals are also working together in this mission. Physicians from Morocco as well as from all over the world are dedicating their time, skills and efforts to provide life-changing surgeries for so many kids. They are the best professionals regarding cleft lip and cleft palate treatment.

For them, the patient always comes first and they work hard and long hours to deliver the best standards of care to every single one of the 300 patients they screened these past two days. In the next few days, thanks to their work and dedication, 150 kids will be operated on in just five operating rooms.

Our colleagues from the local Johnson & Johnson team have also volunteered for this medical mission, giving up their free time to help in every way they could. I would like to thank Siham, Fadoua, Youssef, Imane, Mostapha and Khadija for their work and dedication. They have helped in the screening of every patient and have translated many, many, many conversations. In two full days, we did not see them taking a single break.

It would be impossible to talk about every person that is working to change the lives of so many kids forever, many people that are working behind the scenes. The manager of the hospital that donated 70 beds for Operation Smile’s patients, the organization’s team, the local communities that help each other, the teams at the corporate offices in the U.S. that organized the mission, the donors that donated surgical materials or toys, the people that have raised funds for this mission, so many giving hearts that have worked together to make this dream come true for so many people in Morocco. 

Thank you, thank you.

- Maria Pardo, Ethicon EMEA ambassador from Spain

October 7, 2011

Marrakech: The City of Hope

Today it’s a day of hope in Marrakech. After months of announcements, the day has arrived: Operation Smile has come to Morocco.

Hundreds of families traveling from all over the country are gathered at the public hospital's doors, filled with hope. Next Thursday, 150 children will return home with a smile, something they've never had before.

Today I met Malak (which means “Angel” in Arabic). She is only 19 months old and she was born with a cleft lip. Her mom knew about Operation Smile because she has a neighbor whose grandkid was operated on in an Operation Smile medical mission some years ago.

The family has traveled five hours to be here today. They have their bags packed and have been waiting all day for their names to be called for screening. They don’t know if they will be eligible for surgery, or where they will stay today, but you can see in their faces the happiness they feel for being there.

During today, the first day, all kids are screened to see if they are eligible for a surgery. They will need to go through 9 different rooms, each one corresponding to a different test. Most kids, specially the little ones, are scared and don’t know what`s going on. They cling to their mothers and don’t want to let go.

When their name is called, they rush in and are assigned a green sticker with their patient number, their lucky number. It’s their sticker of hope, and they touch it and stroke like it’s their treasure, with it, they can now go inside.

Once they are inside, their picture needs to be taken and they have appointments with the surgeons and the anesthesiologist to see if their surgery is possible. Sometimes the surgery is too complicated or sometimes they are not healthy enough to undergo an operation. They will also see a dentist, get a blood sample, visit a counselor and finally have their records digitalized.

When they've gone through all doors in the corridor, at the exit there is a desk where they are told if they are or eligible for surgery or not. But Operation Smile never just gives a no, there are always options for everyone. Maybe they can return to the next medical mission in a few months (meanwhile Operation Smile will save their records) when their health is stronger, or if their case is too complicated, they can apply for the World Care Program and get transferred to a more specialized center in the USA, Australia, or the Philippines. 

If they are eligible for surgery and need shelter, Operation Smile will host them at a nearby hotel where they can spend the night. Tomorrow, once they have all the candidates they will give them more information. We hope the capacity is enough to operate on all of them. We will not know until tomorrow.

Behind all this, behind every green sticker, there is a story, a face and a look full of hope. All we could do was try to calm the crying kids, play with them and entertain them. Just a few balloons and some modest toys made them happy. They rewarded us with smiles, sweet looks and some even a kiss. 

We also have in our minds, the image of their mothers and fathers, many of them looking at us, and even though we didn’t speak the same language, their eyes communicated everything: they were asking for our help. 

Not all patients were kids, there were also some teenagers. They didn’t look at us, but looked down trying to hide their faces. Probably for them it’s even harder. But next to them, there was always their mother who looked at you and smiled, looking for our support. 

- Maria Pardo, Ethicon EMEA ambassador from Spain

Ethicon EMEA ambassadors, Kate Masschelein (UK), Rosa Giron (Spain), Maria Pardo (Spain), Konstantin Mikheev (Russia), and Denis Robson (Ethicon’s Corporate Giving Director for Africa) have been volunteering their time at Operation Smile's medical mission in Marrakech, Morocco.

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