Smiley plays with the child-life team before he had surgery for his cleft lip. (Photo courtesy of Aeson Baldevia)

By Talianna Bell, Operation Smile student volunteer

Smiley really did earn his nickname.

His first surgery with Operation Smile had been a success, but the little boy was just so happy that he couldn’t stop smiling. As a result, his stitches fell out, and he needed surgery once again.

I met this wonderful four-year-old during Operation Smile’s medical mission in Iloilo City, Philippines; I played with him before his second surgery for his cleft lip. This cheerful, lively and joyful little boy and I had developed a closeness. As he was in the operating room, receiving the safe and effective surgery he needed, his mother shared with me their story of their life.

Smiley had an amazing attitude despite everything he had gone through. Born with a cleft lip, cleft palate and down syndrome, his mother called him a miracle after he survived his first surgery.”

He has seven brothers and sisters, and he was the only baby born with a cleft condition. Smiley’s mother told me that she believes he developed the condition because she fell while she was doing the laundry one day when she was pregnant with him. It was lucky how they discovered Operation Smile: His mother saw its commercial and called the provided number for more information.

Smiley and his mother felt so blessed and thankful that Operation Smile was able to help them yet again. Operation Smile’s medical missions truly do change so many lives, just like Smiley’s. Meeting that amazing team of Operation Smile volunteers was great because each one of those volunteers went to Iloilo City for the same reason: to provide surgeries for children and help their families.

This special family has always remained positive no matter what challenges were thrown at them, and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to meet these incredible people. On this journey, I was able put a smile on their faces through whatever challenges they were facing — and that, in turn, made me smile, too.

Talianna is a junior from Donovan Catholic High School in New Jersey. She attended the medical mission in Iloilo City, Philippines, in October 2018.