US Navy ship mercifully anchors smiles on kids
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines—“Happy chaos.”
This was the atmosphere inside the room that served as a waiting and receiving area for the young patients who underwent cleft lip and palate repair onboard the American hospital ship USNS Mercy, according to Anthony Thomas Shilton of the Rotary Club of Mabalacat (RCM), Pampanga province.
Shilton and his wife, May, both of them former RCM presidents, assisted the giggling children and their overjoyed parents who saw the Operation Smile surgery as a life-changer.
“We’re very grateful to Operation Smile,” said Rubi Ann Bandies, 34, who traveled with her two children from Urdaneta City in Pangasinan province for the free reconstructive surgery.
“The doctors and nurses were very caring. After this, our lives will never be the same again,” she added.
Bandies and two of her four children, Ruvin, 2, and Ruvilavin, 10 months old, have cleft deformities.
“My children will live normal lives because they will not be teased anymore. And I will also gain self-confidence,” she said.
RCM and Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF) organized the Operation Smile project here under the US Navy’s Pacific Partnership Program. The free cleft lip and cleft palate repair surgeries started on Aug. 6 and ends Thursday.
On Tuesday, 20 patients, most of them children, gathered at the room after staying overnight onboard USNS Mercy for their surgeries.
The hospital ship, which has 12 operating rooms and 1,000 patient beds, arrived on Subic Bay Aug. 4 to conduct joint humanitarian activities as well as search, rescue and disaster preparedness drills.
The Shiltons said about 90 patients, some of whom came from as far as Mindoro province, had been treated in the ship hospital so far.
The Operation Smile program coordinator, Victoria Stabile, said it took about two hours to complete the surgery for each patient, with five surgeons working simultaneously.
“A lot of times, our patients had trouble eating or speaking. They are teased in school, and a lot of them experience a difficult life,” Stabile noted, adding that the surgery will help patients return to school and speak properly.
According to KDF, the Philippines has a high prevalence of one cleft birth for every 500 live births. About 5,000 babies are born with the deformity every year, the group added.
Among them was Den Mark Madrid, a 1-year-old Aeta, who was scheduled for surgery on Tuesday.
“We’ve been waiting for this chance. I’m glad there are groups that help children with cleft lips and palates,” said the boy’s grandmother, Irene Tupaz.
Headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in the United States, the international medical charity operates in more than 60 countries. Since its founding in 1982, it has provided more than 220,000 free surgical procedures for children and young adults born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities.
The hospital ship is leaving for Vietnam on Friday.
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