Operation Smile volunteers began screening patients at Nancy Bach Hospital Aug. 18 for cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries to be performed aboard USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) during Continuing Promise 2008.
Operation Smile is a worldwide children’s medical charity that provides free surgery to children born with facial deformities in developing countries.
“We are here in Puerto Cabezas to make a difference in young lives,” said George Yarbrough, mission coordinator. “This will be a life changing experience for those involved and a small miracle for the patients. This mission is truly a rewarding experience.”
Screenings took place inside a tiny room near the rear of the hospital. Many of the families waiting to be seen had already traveled for days just to reach this moment.
“This is where the miracle begins,” said registered nurse Dominique Declerk, as she cuddled a nine-month old infant who made a five-day journey to reach Puerto Cabezas. “We screen the children to ensure they are healthy enough to undergo surgery.”
As patients arrive to be screened, they are provided with small brick shelter, makeshift showers and round wooden tubs to wash their clothes.
“It’s not much, but it is a place where they may feel safe,” said Declerk.
There are more than 20 patients scheduled for cleft lip palate surgery aboard Kearsarge but if able, the Operation Smile team could perform more.
“Operation Smile wishes to do more,” said Declerk. “I recall the organizations first mission in Haiti. We were scheduled to have 60 surgeries, but we accomplished 90. It was amazing, and now we are here for the people of Nicaragua.”
While in Nicaragua, CP will creatively address the level and scope of health services support and clinical information sharing necessary to improve health outcomes, prolong life, promote training, and enhance prosperity across the region.
Kearsarge is under the operational control of U.S. 4th Fleet. U.S. 4th Fleet’s mission is to direct United States naval forces operating in the Caribbean, and Central and South American regions and interact with partner nation navies to shape maritime environment.
CP is an equal-partnership mission enabling American and partner-nation civil engineers to share ideas to provide effective infrastructure solutions to an array of challenges in order to demonstrate the lasting bonds and shared interests among neighbors.
The Continuing Promise Caribbean Phase is the second of two humanitarian and civil assistance deployments to the Southern Command area of focus for 2008. The first Continuing Promise deployment was conducted by USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Pacific.
E.J. Hawks (NNS)