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It is the eve of my 18th medical mission as a volunteer with Operation Smile. As I prepare to leave for Ethiopia, I find myself reflecting on how miraculous it is that each mission brings strangers from different countries and cultures together in the interest of helping children in need.
I am always in awe watching how each medical mission unfolds and knowing that our teams will be forever bonded by this common experience. Seeing the local medical staff empowered to take care of their own, helped by their neighbors from a world away willing to extend a hand.
Seeing how we stand shoulder to shoulder — feeling the pain, sharing the burden, and experiencing the wonderfully addictive joy of changing the lives of another soul that will leave a permanent mark in our lives as well.
I am grateful for the path that my life has followed and recognize the strange mix of faith and serendipity that has guided me to work with Operation Smile. It's wonderful to love what you do. And I love changing faces and smiles — smiles like Talita's.
I remember clearly walking past her that day two years ago in Fortaleza, Brazil. I was drawn to her shy mischievous grin, so I befriended the doll she hid behind. It was the best way I knew to meet the girl she really wanted to be.
I remember those minutes in the operating room, trying to create the smile I knew belonged to her. I remember the next day. While parents and loved ones are truly grateful for the surgery their child has received, after an operation many children don't want to know you. They don't yet understand what you have done. In fact, most glare at you with new found suspicion as they nurse the temporary wounds you have inflicted on them — wounds that are necessary to give them a beautiful new smile.
She was sitting in her chair. Bright. Content. Wondering what the world would bring her that day, seemingly oblivious of what had happened the day before.
And what a lovely surprise would come her way. As the video camera I was holding turned and a pretty little girl smiled back, her big brown eyes said it all: "Hey, is that me?"
The answer to her prayers. Her coin in the wishing well. Her dream fulfilled. I LOVED sharing that day with her. And I loved sharing it with the millions of people who viewed her story on YouTube. And now, I'd like to share it with you. Please, take a moment to watch the video and see Talita's dream come true.
But the job was only half done. Her cleft palate still needed to be repaired so she could talk without fear or frustration. So she could go to school. So she could grow and blossom.
Last year, I was able to return to Brazil and finish what we set out to do. I look forward to sharing that part of her story with you in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, please take a moment to watch how her new world first unfolded. And, even if you've seen it before, take a minute to share it with your friends. This special little girl will brighten their day, just like she's brightened the days of over two million others!
~Dr. David Chong