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Operation Smile

Cofounder Kathy S. Magee

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Kathy Magee on a mission trip to Manila, Philippines in 2017.

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When Dr. Bill Magee and Kathy S. Magee started Operation Smile over 40 years ago, they had no idea they were setting out to change the world.

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It all began when Dr. Magee, a plastic and craniofacial surgeon, and Kathy Magee, who holds a B.S.N, M.Ed. and M.S.W., were asked to volunteer on a cleft mission in the Philippines in 1982. The trip changed their lives forever. “It was the best decision we ever made,” she says.

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Soon after, they founded Operation Smile with the mission of providing safe and high-quality cleft surgeries to children around the world and strengthening local healthcare systems. Because of the Magee’s tireless efforts, Operation Smile has provided life-changing surgeries to over 300,000 patients.

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Here, we talk to Kathy Magee about starting Operation Smile, what she hopes to teach her 14 grandchildren and what three things you can do to help the OS mission.

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Q&A

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You and your husband founded Operation Smiles in 1982. What led you to this path?
My husband and I were invited to volunteer on a cleft mission the Philippines because his background was plastic surgery and mine was in nursing. It was the best decision we ever made. There were so many kids that needed our help and we couldn't help them all, so Bill and I promised to come back. We went home to Virginia and got to work to make sure we returned to help those kids. We returned in 1982 as Operation Smile.

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Dr. Bill Magee and Kathy Magee with their five children.

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When you think back to your first mission to the Philippines 40 years ago, what advice would you give yourself?
To think bigger. In our earlier programs, we had just enough resources and medical supplies for the immediate need. We needed to think bigger, plan bigger to ultimately help so much more.

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What is the greatest misconception about the work that you do?
That cleft surgery is purely cosmetic. This surgery changes a person's life in many different aspects, like the ability to eat and speak for example.

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Kathy Magee on a mission trip to Guwahati, India in 2010.

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You have transformed countless lives. Can you tell us a story about one particular child who had a great impact on you?
I met a seven-day-old baby during our first trip to Vietnam more than 30 years ago. A mother motioned me into her room and showed me her baby - so small and weak from having trouble feeding. We had to create an obturator to help close the cleft palate that would allow this baby to feed and gain weight until surgery could be given. On our next trip, this mother was first in line and my heart exploded at seeing her baby at a healthy and happy weight.

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What are three things we can do to help?
1. Talk about Operation Smile every chance you get, to help advocate for those cleft conditions. You never know if someone in your network can join us to help change lives.
2. Donate. For as little as $240, a child's life can be changed forever.
3. If you have children, we have student programs designed to empower the youth to become our future leaders. All of my 14 grandchildren are involved!

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The inaugural women’s mission in March 2020 to Oujda, Morocco.

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Learn More About Operation Smile

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discover more on Vb Edit

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