Meet My Friend Daniel Feese

Learn more about Daniel’s story and how Operation Smile connects to it:)

By Jordan Griffith, Student Programs social media intern
Daniel Feese and his girlfriend Mary Alice Photo provided by Daniel Feese

I had the privilege of first meeting Daniel when I started my own Operation Smile high school club my senior year in Virginia. It was after our first official club meeting that Daniel thanked me for bringing an organization like Operation Smile to our high school. And soon after our first meeting, he shared his story with me and eventually the whole club.


What were some obstacles that you faced growing up with a cleft condition?

Daniel was born with a cleft palate which is a hole in the roof of the mouth. Like many of our friends born with cleft palates, Daniel was nervous about being misunderstood by others especially his peers. He feared his peers would reject him because of the difficulties he had with his speech. Even though his first surgery had been a success where doctors had repaired his cleft palate at 11 months old. After Daniel’s surgery, he started going to speech therapy as soon as he could start school and stopped going around 7th-8th grade. Some challenges that Daniel inquired because of his cleft condition were poor eyesight which resulted in him needing glasses, at 18 months old he had to have his four front teeth extracted because they became rotten. He believes it was because the baby formula he was given as a baby had a high percentage of corn syrup in it. Due to the extraction, Daniel had to learn to speak using only his gums in the front of his mouth. He also endured hearing loss and painful ear infections that required the fluid from his ears to be drained using tubes so that he could hear more clearly, and suffered respiratory problems including asthma and not being able to breathe properly through one of his nasal cavities. Which began his sophomore year of high school. Daniel also said that learning German in high school was tough in particular because it was difficult to make certain sounds.


Do you feel that being a part of Operation Smile helped you in your personal life? If so how?

Daniel expressed that being a part of Operation Smile gave him the courage to go outside his comfort zone and strengthen his public speaking skills in the process.


What are some goals you are working towards right now?

Daniel is now in his second year at Germanna college studying biology and is wanting to pursue a career in cyber security.


What is one thing you wish more people understood about cleft conditions?

Daniel wishes that more people outside of the cleft community were more patient when he is talking to them since it takes him a bit longer to form some words. Often times it takes several surgeries to repair a cleft condition depending on the severity, and even then there are follow-ups after the surgery like speech therapy for instance.


What do you want people to take away from reading your story?

Daniel hopes that by sharing his story he can encourage others to do more research about cleft conditions, understand the struggles one may face later on because of it, and always speak with kindness.


Jordan is a Student Programs’ media intern and president of Virginia Tech’s Operation Smile chapter. She has been involved with Operation Smile for almost six years; she first learned about the organization through one of her best friends when she lived in Southern California. Since then, she has found a passion for assisting others and engaging with individuals who share an interest in being leaders in their communities.