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Kupchella in Peru, Day 3: Smile Network surgeries for kids in need

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Below, BringMeTheNews founder and CEO Rick Kupchella is writing about his trek in Peru for a Smile Network medical mission, which took place last week. Kupchella serves as Chairman of the organization. The trekkers, mostly Minnesotans, including Kupchella's daughter Elizabeth, raised money and awareness for the group.

Click here to read Day One and Day Two of Rick's journal, as he traveled along the Inca Trail on the way to Machu Picchu. Today, he writes about arriving in Lima, Peru, where the organization is setting about the business of its mission: surgeries to repair cleft lips and palates in children in underdeveloped nations.

You don’t have to be particularly well traveled in this world to develop a fast appreciation that America is a land of plenty.

There are systems in place in the U.S. to help all people meet basic human needs – including health care – in ways that you don't see in less developed parts of the world.

Here's an example: Each year, more than 4,500 children are born in the USA with cleft lips and/or palates. Mayo reports it to be among the most common birth defects in the nation.

Yet the vast majority of us never see that. It’s unusual to find a child at school or the local daycare in this country with a cleft lip or palate.

In the USA, this deformity is routinely corrected. Quickly.

But that’s not the case in many other parts of the world, where children suffering these terrible "scars" often simply hide their faces in shame.

In more dramatic cases, we’ve heard stories of parents literally leaving these children to die. It’s difficult to feed them; in some poorer parts of the world it’s difficult – nearly impossible – for parents to cope with the significant needs of these children.

This is where Smile Network International comes in. The Minneapolis-based humanitarian organization was founded for the explicit purpose of mobilizing medical and non-medical volunteers for specific missions that change the lives of children. Smile coordinates missions to repair these children all over the world in places where there is no internal support.

In 10 years, Smile has conducted more than 2,500 surgeries on children at 54 locations on several continents, in Central and South America, Africa and Asia.

Smile’s treated nearly 1,000 children just in Peru since 2005.

And that’s where they were at work again last week in Lima.

Eddie was among the latest to receive help. Eddie is just 9 months old. He received a lip surgery several months ago. His family has brought him back so the surgeons can close the roof of his mouth – his palate. It’s a common dual-deformity (lip and palate) that are generally repaired in separate stages.

His 28-year-old mother, Maria, spent two days with him navigating buses into the city to get here.

Eddie was a hit with volunteer staff at the hospital immediately. He's a highly engaging, affectionate and happy little boy.

Dr. Steve Grosso performed the palate repair. Grosso – like the rest of the medical volunteers in the missions – not only uses personal vacation days to travel to South America to do this work, he also covers part of his own cost in getting there. Steve and his son Matthew also raised money for this mission independently, having friends and family support them on our trek in the days before the hospital mission itself.

In about 45 minutes, and for about $500, Steve Grosso (supported by a full complement of Smile’s medical and non-medical volunteers) changed little Eddie’s life forever.

His mother was exhausted, emotional, grateful. She said, “I just want him to have a normal life. And to be able to have a profession of his own in the future.”

Eddie, pre-op, with Smile Network volunteer Kim Hammes, of LeSueur, Minn.:

Eddie, post-op, with his mother Maria, and Hammes:

On the same day – on the same floor – at the Children’s Hospital of Lima, another mother and father paced the floors with their own child, a little baby girl they call Hannah.

Smile Network repaired her lip shortly after the first of the year, and on this day, they would close the gaping hole in the roof of her mouth.

45 minutes.



Hannah, pre-op, with Smile Executive Director Maureen Cahill and her mother Patricia:

Hannah, post-op:

(Thanks to my fellow trekkers Tate and Joe Leyba for their help documenting the trip.)

Hannah's mother said, “We just want her to be able to eat, and then one day to have a future, to do anything she would like to do.”

Her family learned of Smile Network from the guides who led the trekkers along the Inca Trail.

Earlier in the week on the trail, in conversations by way of an interpreter, I was thanking our porters for the work they’d done to support us for so many days high in the Andes. I took a little time to explain to them what this group was doing.

They got it. Immediately. They asked point-blank: “How can we connect your doctors with our children in our own villages?”

It’s an ongoing outreach we at Smile Network intend to keep alive.

With help from readers like you, we can get there. One step at a time.

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