World / Reporter's Journal

Alliance for Smiles doctors 'invaluable assets of humanity'

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-03-22 11:35

Approximately one in 350 children born in China each year has a cleft lip or palate abnormality. And teams of doctors and nurses from San Francisco regularly go to their rescue, free of charge.

To me, this is a living, proactive testimonial to what love is all about - a universal language spoken by unselfish souls determined to make the world a better place for the underprivileged and underserved.

On March 19, an appreciation conference for the Alliance for Smiles (AfS), a San Francisco-based non-profit that provides free cleft lip and palate surgeries to impoverished children around the world, turned out to be an enlightening and thought-provoking lesson on charity and what it means to give back to society.

Dressed in formal attire, attendees packed the auditorium at the AfS 11th annual gala to honor those who have contributed tremendously to the organization, both in time and money.

According to a video shown at the gala, AfS medical teams have completed 65 medical missions in 10 countries around the world with more than 4,000 children receiving corrective surgery over the past 11 years.

Among all of AfS' destinations, China holds a special place on its agenda, the organizers said.

In 2004, six members of the Rotary Club of San Francisco - Jim Deitz, Anita Stangl, James Patrick, John Goings, John Uth and Burt Berry - established the Alliance for Smiles hopeful that the program would not only send medical teams to sites to perform corrective surgery, but also create treatment centers where the American protocol of cleft surgery could be replicated.

To supplement the team, they hired Karin Vargervik, director of the cleft lip and palate treatment center at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, to head the treatment center program.

Anita Stangl, outgoing president and CEO since the inauguration of AfS, approached China as the first country chosen to implement its dual concept. In addition to the vast number of children patients in China, the AfS already had relationships with the China Population Welfare Foundation and the State Family Planning Commission - a network and infrastructure that could be used to set up treatment centers.

There was also an intense interest on the part of China's health workers to learn about how to get treatment centers up and running.

The cross-border collaboration and communication have borne fruit. In 2007, AfS dedicated its first treatment center in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, followed by a second in Wenzhou in 2009 and a third in Harbin in 2011. A fourth treatment center is to be established in Zunyi, Guizhou province.

Photographer Greg Goodman went to Xingyi, Guizhou province, with the AfS medical team for a one-month mission this year and he took videos and photos depicting how surgeons, dentists, social workers and speech pathologists communicate with patients and parents.

Alliance for Smiles doctors 'invaluable assets of humanity'

AfS works directly with local hospital staff exchanging ideas on proper medical techniques, procedures and follow-up care.

For most patients, surgery can improve breathing, hearing and speech and language development in addition to improving appearance. Surgery is recommended within the first year of a child with cleft lip and within 18 months for infants with cleft palates.

Goodman documented how 75 operations - 51 on cleft lips, 24 on cleft palates - dramatically changed people's lives.

"We may have provided them with a free medical procedure, but the love and joy they gave us in return is unquantifiable," he said.

Ren Faqiang, deputy consul-general at the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, said he was deeply moved by the dedication, love and care shown by AfS.

"The greatest love knows no boundaries," he said, adding that the professionalism and ethics he has witnessed from the medical teams, the surgeons and the nurses, were invaluable assets of humanity.

Contact the writer at

Most Popular
Hot Topics