NU chapter of Operation Smile to help fund surgeries

Evelio Contreras

Lawrence Kurtzman has traveled overseas 18 times since 1986 to help with Operation Smile, an organization that provides free corrective plastic surgery to children in developing countries.

“Sometimes we’ll see the people we performed surgery on the next year,” said Kurtzman, a plastic surgeon. “It’s rewarding to see children who were hidden from view, who had no friends, go to school just like any other kid. It’s an extraordinary transformation.”

McCormick freshman Naomi Pilosof worked with Kurtzman in Cincinnati’s chapter of Operation Smile, which inspired her to form a chapter at Northwestern. She and Eddy Ameen, a Weinberg sophomore, founded the chapter two weeks ago by sending an application to the national headquarters in Virginia.

Twice as many people are born with facial deformities in fledgling countries than in the United States. In addition to free surgery, Operation Smile provides education and training for local healthcare workers in 12 developing nations.

Pilosof said the NU chapter will help raise funds for children who could die because of their facial deformities. She also wants to set up collection boxes in Evanston and begin an adopt-a-child fund-raising program.

“Through Operation Smile, people not only get the gift of a smile, but they get the gift of life,” Pilosof said. “NU does not have a club like this at the moment, and our efforts would be a great addition to the volunteer groups on campus.”

Other students already have expressed interest in joining the group.

“It’s a positive experience working with people who are interested in others,” said Weinberg junior Sarah Skopek. “I’m interested in people who are sick. It’s an outlet to help in that capacity.”

In the early weeks of a child’s development, the right and left sides of the lip and the roof of the mouth normally grow together. When these sections do not meet properly, they form a cleft lip or cleft palate, which can endanger a child’s development and survival by limiting the ability to suckle.

“Many of the physical malformations are quite severe, with faces so disfigured that the simplest actions of eating, speaking and breathing are troublesome tasks,” Pilosof said. “Before surgery, many are ostracized by their communities and even shunned by their families. If not abandoned and left for dead as young children, they remain unemployable, social outcasts.”

On each of Kurtzman’s weeklong trips for the Cincinnati chapter, 150 children, teen-agers and young adults receive the $750 surgery free of charge.

Funding for the plastic surgeries comes mostly from contributions by the local chapters.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to give children with birth defects a chance to live life normally,” Kurtzman said. “We’re providing surgery, and it’s exciting knowing that in their lifetime they wouldn’t get this opportunity.”