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Craniofacial Mission Report


Phnom Penh
February 23, 2013 to March 01, 2013

Friday, 22nd February saw our Australian group of volunteers heading for airports to fly to Phnom Penh to begin work the next morning thanks to KangaNews. Alongside 57 other likeminded volunteers, we
began work with local doctors, nurses, students, translators and medical receptionists.

A total of 97 patients were screened the first day and surgeries were planned. By the end of the day, most of the readying was done, machinery and autoclaves set up and the rooms ready for the busy week ahead.

On Monday, we had four operating tables working and by day three, we had added one more. A total of 113 surgeries were completed over the four days of operating. Screening continued each day of the mission and a total of 197 patients were screened. Our surgeons and anaesthetists came from the USA, Canada, Italy, Australia and of course, Cambodia. Recovery staff coped admirably with only 3 recovery beds and often 5-6 patients at a time. They became skilled at juggling beds and chairs for the patients. The ward was always very busy, with patients being admitted for surgery, post-surgery patients and discharging patients all going on in the same area. It was complete with its very own ‘movie theatre’ very kindly set up by one of our thoughtful volunteers  who came armed with his DVD player and supply of DVDs that were screened onto the wall from 7am – 8pm every day, keeping our little patients entertained.

Friday saw a tired team packing up and bidding farewell to a wonderful week of memories, new friendships and the wonderful opportunity of changing the smiles for so many patients and their families. On Friday night the team were treated to a very enjoyable thank you dinner at Madam Chea Serey’s house who is a very active supporter of Operation Smile Cambodia.

Joan Macrow, OR Nurse, Cambodia mission 2013

University of Queensland Medical Students’ Journey to Cambodia

In February this year we were awarded the unique opportunity to be the first medical students from the University of Queensland to participate in an Operation Smile mission. We met the remainder of the Australian contingent and other volunteers from all over the world in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, ready for a week of experiencing firsthand how charities such as Operation Smile can make a real difference in improving the health of the developing world.

During that week we were able to participate in all facets of the mission, including learning how screening day works and assisting in the logistics of this, helping to entertain kids of all ages in the child life area before their surgeries, assisting both the anaesthetists and surgeons in theatre, and then observing the care provided in the post-operative recovery period. There were numerous teaching opportunities along the way and despite being busy all of the volunteers were more than happy to indulge us in this. We were exposed to conditions we had never seen at home, and definitely learnt a huge amount about cleft lips and palates and their potential impact on children.

At the completion of the mission we attended the post-operative review day and saw the impact that these surgeries were having after even just a few days. The happiness seen after a successful cleft repair was heart-warming, particularly from the parents as the children were often too young to fully understand what had happened. We also accompanied our mission co-ordinator Sam on a fact finding mission to a remote province of Cambodia. This was an opportunity to see Cambodia at its poorest and opened our eyes even further to the state of living and healthcare there.

As well as attending the mission we were lucky enough to enjoy some tourist time in Cambodia, including the team bonding day in Phnom Penh plus after the mission at the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and the tropical islands of Sihanoukville. We felt that by spending time in all of these different regions of Cambodia and interacting with the local people during the mission we really gained a good insight in to the country and its people.

Being able to go on this mission was a wonderful opportunity that we are most thankful for. It reinforced the desire in both of us to be involved in charities working to improve global health once we are able to, and the other volunteers that we met on the mission provided a great inspiration for the kind of healthcare professionals we aspire to be.

-    Caitlin Swift and Ashleigh Cruickshank





Taiyuan, Yingjiang and Yantai
September 01, 2012 to September 30, 2012

Taiyuan, Yingjiang and Yantai Missions 2012

Thanks to OSA corporate partners, KangaNews, fifteen volunteers travelled to 3 mission sites in China, screening 369 children and performing 253 surgeries. Each year KangaNews holds an Awards Ceremony honouring businesses and individuals in the Australian dept markets and selects one charity as its beneficiary. Operation Smile Australia was fortunate to be the nominated charity for the night, raising over $70,000 for OSA.

The first of these missions was to Taiyuan where Paula Rebgetz, Sue Pitman and Karen Baker joined Operation Smile volunteers from around the world to change lives forever with the aim of operating on 100 children during the 10 day medical mission.

Meanwhile, another Operation Smile Australia team touched down in Yingjiang, after enduring 30 hours of travelling which included 4 plane flights, a bus and two attempts to land in Mangshi, China. The team volunteering in Yingjiang included Richard Lewandowski (OSA founder), Jeff Brunton (OSA Board Member), Heather Howard (Executive Officer of OSA), and Renae Ayris (Miss Universe Australia) with medical volunteers Sue Pitman, Terry Culleton, Janet Perry-Watson and Susan Woods.

Miss Universe Australia Renae Ayris is proved to be a hit with the Yingjiang locals and hospital staff. This mission is a first for both Jeff Brunton and Renae and gave both the opportunity to see firsthand the work OSA does, the children we help and how we provide training for surgeons in the hope of creating medical sustainability in these developing countries.

“I went to the mission in Yingjiang not really knowing what to expect. It took us over 30 hours to eventually get to the little town of Yingjiang. The first day was screening day, when I got there I saw hundreds of people lingering in and around the hospital. They all had an anxious look on their face- all hoping for the same thing; hoping that their child would be eligible for surgery. When I got to meet some of the families and hear some of their stories is when it hit me about how amazing this charity - Operation Smile really is.  How it changes a whole family’s life in as little as 45 minutes. To be able to experience firsthand this mission to China has definitely given me a better understanding of the Charity and made me admire it even more. This mission was so rewarding to me and I’m very grateful I got to experience it. It will be a moment in my life I will remember forever”

Renae Ayris, Smile Ambassador and Miss Universe Australia

As a volunteer director from a non-medical background who has been on the Board for 7 years, I found it very rewarding to have the opportunity to attend a mission. To see the amazing work and the difference we make to the children and their families in some of the poorest places on the planet was truly rewarding.  Our volunteer doctors and nurses are the real heroes.  I'll cherish the smiles I saw in the faces of the children whose lives are now changed forever”

Jeff Brunton, OSA Board Member

On the other side of China, Melissa Roberts, Clare Bourke and Julie Bate, attended the Operation Smile medical mission to Yantai.  


March 14, 2012 to March 24, 2012

Craniofacial & Education Mission, Davao, Philippines
14 - 24 March 2012

Operation Smile Australia in conjunction with Operation Smile Philippines and OSP, Davao Chapter conducted our first Craniofacial & Educational Mission to Davao in the south of the Philippines.

Funding by way of a part sponsorship of $10,000 came from the Lions Australia project. A team of 11 Australians and 2 New Zealand medical volunteers participated in the ten day mission.

During this mission, our team screened 36 children and young adults with 9 being scheduled for surgery during this mission.

Most of our patients had frontal encephalocoeles, a condition where abnormal brain tissue herniates through into the face and occurs before birth. This causes significant social and personal distress for the patient and family despite the fact that most children are otherwise normally developed. It is a complex process to treat these patients and requires an operation that combines Plastic Surgery and Neurosurgery to remove the abnormal tissue and restore the face to a more normal appearance.

Usually this surgery has to be performed in a specialised hospital, mostly in developed countries. The children and parents are required to travel out of their country and stay at least a month with a host family during recovery. Since 1999, under our World Care Program, Operation Smile Australia has brought 32 children and young adults to Brisbane for surgery – 25 of whom were born with this condition.

Our team led by OSA Co-Founder and Brisbane Plastic Surgeon, Dr Richard Lewandowski was made up fellow Australians, Anaesthetist Dr Jason Schoutrop, Paediatric Intensivist Dr Julie McEniery and nurses Sandy Achurch, Alexia Brook, Julie Franich, Peter Langbridge, Natalie Snide, Sue Pitman and Lydia Warner. New Zealanders, Plastic Surgeon Dr Jonathan Wheeler and Neurosurgeon Dr Agadha Wickremesekera and OSA’s Medical Project Officer, Anne Kelly completed the team.

OSA would like to thank all the volunteers who participated in this mission and to the team from Brokenshire Hospital in Davao who worked alongside us. A very special thank you also to Dr Joselito Rosauro Cembrano and Ms Priscilla Custodio from the OSP Davao Chapter and Mr Roberto Manzano from OSP.

We were also fortunate to be joined on this mission by Photographer Peter Stuckings and Videographer Jason Eng – some of Peter’s images appear with this story.


October 06, 2011 to October 16, 2011


Alan BreidahlPlastic Surgeon and Team Leader
Lindy HareTeam Co-ordinator and Scout Nurse
Charles DavisPlastic Surgeon (self funded)
Indu KapoorAnaesthetist
Ales AliashkevichNeurosurgeon
Caroline KillickIntensivist
Skye WallaceIntensive Care Nurse
Lauren RothwellAnaesthetic Nurse

Following on from 5 previous craniofacial missions to Central Military Hospital 108, Melbourne Plastic Surgeon and OSA Board member, Dr Alan Breidahl headed a smaller ‘withdrawal’ mission team to this site in October.

43 patients were screened at the mission, with 11 receiving surgery by the OSA team combined with the local team and 3 receiving surgery by the local team alone. A further 11 young Vietnamese were deemed suitable for surgery at future missions and were asked to return next year.

Our team also met with Ambassador Cox from the Australian Embassy who, once again, displayed a great deal of interest in our work. Ambassador Cox is looking into scholarships through AusAid for further training for 2 Vietnamese Doctors who have been involved in our missions in Hanoi. Dr Breidahl has also approached the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and they have agreed to host and train these Doctors, subject to OSA securing funding for travel and living expenses.

A big thank you to our Hanoi 2011 Team, to J & J, Stryker and Synthes for the donation of medical supplies and to our mission sponsor, The Portland House Foundation.


October 16, 2008 to October 25, 2008

Dr Richard Lewandowski will be leading a team of experienced volunteers to Vietnam for our 3rd mission in recent years to Central Military Hospital 108.


Ho Chi Minh City
May 17, 2008 to May 24, 2008

In the middle of May, OSA are sponsoring a small team of experienced medical and nursing volunteers to Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This team will be led by Dr Alan Breidahl, Melbourne-based plastic surgeon with experience of 2 previous OSA missions.
This will be the 5th sponsored mission to this hospital since the inaugural mission in 2001 and represents the formal end of our sponsorship of surgical teams for this centre. Our future collaborations will be for continuing educational support of the local medical and nursing teams. A fantastic achievement by all at Cho Ray, aligning with the core principles of our organisation. That is, empowering the local teams of surgeons and nurses to provide a sustainable surgical treatment service to the local indigenous population.
This will be the first mission for Rachel Quinert, an operating theatre nurse from The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. We also welcome Dr Jose Gutierrez, a paediatric intensive care physician, from Phoenix, Arizona.
During this mission we hope to operate on 5 children and young adults with severe, yet rectifiable, cranio-facial deformities, as well as screen and review another group of 12-15 cases.

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