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Two Israeli surgeons from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa returned from a trip to Vietnam, where they corrected facial defects in children.

Last week, two surgeons from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa – Omri Amudi and Zach Sharony – returned from Vietnam, where they participated in an international project called “Operation Smile.” They were part of a team of approximately 300 other doctors who operated 12 hours a day in order to complete over 500 surgeries.

Operation Smile provides free reconstructive surgery for cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children around the globe. The 30-year-old program has been operating in Vietnam for the past 25 years and has completely eradicated cleft palate and cleft lip among adults there.

These potentially life-saving surgeries are performed mainly in developing countries for impoverished populations, where facial birth defects are widespread.

A child born with a cleft palate has twice the odds of dying before his or her first birthday. Those who survive may have difficulty eating, speaking, hearing or breathing properly. In some communities, they are shunned.

Medicine – a Bridge Between Cultures

The Israeli doctors participating in the program not only bring innovation and empathy to their patients, but as part of an international team of doctors, also serve as medical ambassadors.

Working with Drs. Amudi and Sharony were physicians from 18 other countries, including Morocco and Jordan. They devoted some time to getting to know each other.

“The atmosphere among doctors was extremely convivial.  Our free time was filled with conversation, jokes and mutual invitations,” said Dr. Sharony, adding, “The cliché that medicine is a bridge between cultures was more apparent than ever.”

A pleasant surprise was a visit by Mee Huang, Miss Vietnam of 2011, who came by to offer support. The program had touched her heart, she said, and she decided to join the delegation. Huang assisted with translations and offered encouragement to the children and participants.

By: Penina Taylor, United with Israel

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