Imagine if you can, not being able to see your child smile. This is the reality for many children born with birth defects like cleft palate, cleft lips and facial deformities. Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft. One in 10 of those children will die before their first birthday. The children who survive are often unable to eat, speak, socialize or smile. In some places, they are shunned and rejected. For these children, extensive surgery is their only option and, in too many cases, their parents can’t afford to give them the surgeries they need to live a productive life.
That is where Operation Smile can help! Operation Smile is an international children’s medical charity that heals children’s smiles, forever changing their lives. In 2011, Connecticut mom Lisa Lori, a publicist, and her childhood friend Kathy Van Zeeland, a hand bag designer, partnered to launch an international fundraising initiative with Operation Smile called The Three Little Bears, named after Lisa’s children, Zachary, Luke and Griffin. Lisa’s three sons were all born with facial paralysis and the inability to smile. After enduring years of muscle transplant surgeries to give her own children their smiles, Lisa and Kathy designed the commemorative bears to bring comfort to children worldwide that are suffering from facial deformities.
Smiles mean a lot to the Lori Family. For the past four years, each of the Lori boys (ages 12, 10, and 9) have undergone two 8-hour muscle transplant surgeries, or ‘smile’ surgery, to enable them to smile, among many other benefits. And their journey is not over, they will continue to have additional surgeries in the upcoming months. The children’s surgeon – Dr. Ronald Zuker – operated on each of the boys and performed the life-changing transplant surgeries. Dr. Zuker is an Operation Smile medical volunteer and inspired the Lori’s and Van Zeeland to find a way to help and comfort other children in honor of the Lori boys.
“Surgery is a scary prospect for anyone. When any child goes into surgery they are allowed to bring one thing – a blanket or stuffed animal – to comfort them; our children always chose a stuffed animal to hug and we wanted to offer this same comfort to children around the world,” said Lisa. “We know firsthand how transforming a smile can be and a teddy bear, like a smile, is a universal sign of love to all children. Collaborating on this with Operation Smile and Kathy has been truly wonderful for our whole family.”
On April 19, the Lori Family and Kathy Van Zeeland traveled on an Operation Smile medical mission to Panama where they had the opportunity to personally comfort children, and witness first hand the comfort the Bears bring. Over their five days in Panama, they gave out about 200 bears to children receiving surgery. Twelve-year-old Zachary has started a fundraising campaign selling See’s Candies to raise 30 smile surgeries in honor of the 30th anniversary of the non-profit this year, and he is working on his own video to show his donors and classmates back home. So far, with the help of the other sixth graders in his school, selling candy in front of stores, football games and around town, he has already raised almost $5,000, his goal is $7,200 – which will provide the 30 smiles he is aiming for. To help him reach his goal you can also donate online, click on Zachary’s One Smile page to donate.
This family and this organization are helping those in need out of the kindness of their hearts, the doctors are volunteering their time and skills and the Lori Family is giving back to an organization that is truly life changing. If you are interested in helping, find more information on Operation Smile and how you can spread some smiles to children in need, click here.
Every child deserves a smile; Operation Smile and the Three Little Bears are making that happen.