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"Sut" means split lip and is a terrible name for a child. But for the first nine years of his life, that's what young Thanh was called by everyone in his village in rural Vietnam.

Every day, the cleft lip he was born with caused pain and humiliation. He had trouble eating, drinking, and struggled to speak.

On his first day of school, the other children taunted "Sut" so mercilessly because of his disfigured mouth that he ran away and refused to go back.

At the age of 9, Thanh had still not returned to school. It seemed that his whole life would be ruined by this curse. His mother wanted so badly to help — but because she was very poor, she could not afford the surgery that would transform his life.

In 2003, his mother heard that there would be an Operation Smile medical mission in Vietnam. Hopeful that Thanh would receive surgery, she and Thanh traveled to the Le Loi Hospital in Vung Tau, where they found hundreds of others gathered — waiting to be screened and selected for surgery.

After hours of waiting, Thahn's mother cried as she heard the announcement that her child would receive surgery. Thanh, old enough to understand how this moment would change his life, eagerly led his mother towards the Pre-Operative care station.

Thanh was ushered into the operating room, and 45 minutes later, he looked in the mirror and saw his new smile for the first time.

Upon seeing her son after surgery, his mother cried, quietly understanding that her child's life had changed forever. The operation gave Thanh a new beginning, allowing him to play happily with other children, return to school, and be called Thanh, meaning "blue sky," instead of a hurtful nickname.

Now, 10 years later, Thanh is a confident 19 year-old young man. He proudly supports his family as a working member of his community and, with the help of Operation Smile, is attending school to finish his degree.

Thanh continues to be involved with Operation Smile and frequently visits our office in Vietnam to volunteer, share his story, fundraise, and ensure that children who are born with facial deformities — children just like him so many years ago — are comforted as they are cared for.

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