You might already know ED nurse, Kathy Reece, and her special mission at Alliance for Smiles. If you don’t, prepare for a warm fuzzy feeling coming your way. Alliance for Smiles is a charitable organization that provides free, comprehensive treatment for children with cleft lip and palate deformation in under-served communities worldwide.
Kathy has been involved with Alliance for Smiles for 12 years, but has been involved in medical mission trips since 1991. Kathy goes on 1-2 missions per year that last 2-3 weeks; she has been to Mexico, and Africa, but she loves to visit China in particular. She has been to China about 10 times now.
Kathy started as a PACU nurse, and eventually became a part of the nursing subcommittee. She now helps Alliance for Smiles to plan trips, recruit new members, review applications, procure supplies, and makes educational presentations.
All of the children who receive assistance from Alliance for Smiles are underprivileged, and do not otherwise have access to healthcare. A cleft lip and deformed palate can significantly impact a child’s development, making it difficult to eat and talk. Many of the children do not have names or registered birth dates, because the parents are unsure whether the child will survive to adulthood.
Surgeons perform 8-10 surgeries per day for about two weeks. Some children will return for multiple surgeries before their cases are complete. Unfortunately, not all the children are able to receive care. During Kathy’s last trip, out of 200 children, 97 met the criteria to have surgery. After the mission is over, Alliance for Smiles helps educate local doctors and nurses, and sets up permanent treatment centers to provide the community with further assistance, so that patients can receive ongoing care. Eventually, as Alliance for Smiles completes their involvement, these treatment centers are completely owned and operated by the communities they serve. So far, there are five such treatment centers in China.
After her mission is over, Kathy usually spends some time as a tourist. After her most recent trip, she went to Beijing, and visited Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China. However, her favorite part of each mission is to see a brand new smile on each child’s face.