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Operation Smile Mission
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Operation Smile: ARRIVAL
16-Feb-2008 05:25:22 AM [(GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta]

12:00 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 17 - We have arrived. Just reached Lao Cai at 8:30 pm earlier this evening, driving in the dark. The journey turned out to be an easy 13-hour ride (if such a thing exists) which included a full tea-house lunch complete with goat, fish, bamboo, fried eggs and a rare local specialty of red rice. We then had a flat tire after spinning out on some gravel and sharp turns. Not much of delay for the repair, which offered yet another stop to have tea at local electronics shop. Everyone on board passed around a different snack every hour, so we sampled flour cakes, ginger candies and rice cakes wrapped in leaves. Operation Smile Vietnam knows how to do this.

It is still cold, but not frigid. Everyone wears winter coats inside and out since there is no heat anywhere. Recent news reports have said two children died because of the cold. Reporters who are traveling with us confirm the stories and will be hoping to speak to the families who are at the screening tomorrow. Today, really, looking at the time. 

We held a team meeting during dinner to confirm all logistics for the morning, and a couple of us have traveled across town by taxi to meet up with the RacingThePlanet operations director. He provided an interview with the Voice of Vietnam News reporter and covered all the latest course information. It is very dark but it looks like we are next to a river. We concluded the meeting by agreeing to meet up again at 5:30 am to greet the train load of arriving competitors. We will then start the ceremonies and begin screening children who are now waiting to see if they have a chance at normal life. The experience for all involved promises to be memorable. Sleepless, and memorable.

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Operation Smile: HANOI
15-Feb-2008 10:13:51 AM [(GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta]
Friday, February 15 - After 30+ hours of traveling from the US on four different planes, I arrived in Hanoi to greet blaring horns and a beautiful busyness. The culture shift has already taken hold, despite my preoccupation with the travel distress of a flight cancellation, a lost boarding pass, some targeted security checks, a visa delay and cell phones not working. Somehow, I arrived on time and in once piece. From the 4th story Operation Smile office in downtown Hanoi, I am meeting my Vietnamese colleagues and catching up on the past 24 hours that have shaped plans for the medical mission to Lao Cai.

Our medical team leader, Dr. Thuan, is suddenly unable to travel and represent OSV in Lao Cai due to a severe case of the flu virus. Instead, Dr. Thuan will be in phone communication with the team to monitor progress and check on patients. His colleague, Dr. Nguyen Thanh Thai, will be standing in him for him, himself a well-known and very highly-regarded plastic surgeon.

The concern about the weather bloomed into the possibility yesterday of having to cancel surgeries if the severe cold persisted. The General Hospital No. 1 in Lao Cai has no absolutely no heat. However, an advance team from OSV that left for Lao Cai two days ago determined earlier this afternoon that the situation will allow surgeries to proceed. OSV has agreed, as part of its mission expenses to take care of the families and children arriving for the screening, to shop at the border town to purchase electric space heaters for the operating room and blankets for the patients.

There are 33 of us that make up the Operation Smile Vietnam team, ready to start the 10-hour bus ride through the mountains at 7:00 am tomorrow (Saturday) morning. The volunteers include 10 surgeons, 7 anesthesiologists, 10 nurses, select coordinators and medical records personnel who will share space on the bus with all the medical equipment and supplies needed to ensure patient safety for the local hospital. So far, I am the only one mixing up names and pronunciations. We are looking forward to meeting up with RacingThePlanet. More to come.   

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Operation Smile: MEDIA
13-Feb-2008 02:31:36 AM [(GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta]
  • Please see the attached five-minute video which highlights Operation Smile's overlap with RacingThePlanet's Gobi March 2007. The joint event helped children in both Kashgar and Urumqi, lending a strong humanitarian presence to China's Xinjiang province:


  • As word gets out to families in surrounding villages and provinces near Lao Cai, children living with cleft lip and cleft palate deformities will arrive with their families to see Operation Smile doctors, hoping for the chance to undergo an overwhelming transformation. Living with a cleft lip or palate deformity severely limits development. Not only does it affect eating, breathing, speaking and hearing, but it renders schooling and socialization nearly impossible. Reconstructive surgery for these children provides as much change on the inside as it does on the outside. To consider the life of a child suffering from such deformities and the meaning of surgery, please click below to view the moving story of Thanh’s New Day in Operation Smile’s video library:



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Operation Smile: COORDINATION
13-Feb-2008 02:31:26 AM [(GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta]

Monday, Feb. 10 - Preparations are now well underway for the Operation Smile mission in Lao Cai happening in a matter of days. During the last month, we have undertaken a fact-finding mission conducted jointly by local staff from Operation Smile and medical members from our partner hospital, The Vietnam Cuba Friendship Hospital. Meetings with representatives from the National Fund for Vietnamese Children set in motion the process of locating and identifying children from outlying areas in need of surgery. We also are checking to see that all logistical matters are in place and effective for the imminent arrival of Operation Smile’s volunteer medical team on Saturday, February 16th.

Approximately 100 patients from the Lao Cai, Lai Chau and Yen Bai provinces are expected to be operated on during the week. However, we face the problem of enduring the worst cold snap in 15 years in the region, which will make it very difficult for patients to travel. Since many of our potential patients come from circumstances of extreme poverty, Operation Smile will provide financial assistance to help families meet their transportation costs.  The medical mission also falls in the middle of the Vietnamese Tet celebrations, the most important of all Vietnamese traditions, to welcome the Year of the Rat. There is some concern that reliable transportation in these remote regions may be limited at best.

The Operation Smile medical team itself faces a long journey to reach Lao Cai, and will be traveling with medical equipment, cargo, food and supplies for the mission on a 45-seater bus. The 10-hour journey into the mountains will be remote. The team plans to leave Hanoi very early on Saturday morning in order to arrive in Lao Cai late on February 16th.

Operation Smile will host RacingThePlanet at the patient screening on Sunday morning, February 17th. Surgery will begin once that is completed, running through February 22nd. On the last day, providing weather permits it and once all patients have been discharged, the volunteers will be free to sightsee in Sapa or Ha Khau, the border area. The volunteer team will depart Lao Cai on February 23rd. 

Operation Smile is committed to conducting a successful medical mission, especially given that extensive advertising in the local media has announced notice of our presence well in advance. Children who otherwise would have no chance at normal life are being found and their families are encouraged to attend. Operation Smile also extends the following message:  “We wish the participants from RacingThePlanet every success in their quest for excellence and we look forward to hosting them at the Hospital during their visit. We know that children who cannot yet smile this year at Tet will have shining smiles next Tet."

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Operation Smile: INTRODUCTION
13-Feb-2008 02:29:47 AM [(GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta]

RacingThePlanet will be working with Operation Smile, an international charity, to set up a medical mission during “RacingThePlanet:  Vietnam 2008.”  Melissa DiBona of Operation Smile will be filing daily reports about the progress of the volunteers at the mission site in Lao Cai, where they expect to treat 100 children with facial deformities. Preliminary update as follows:

  • Sunday, February 3 - Operation Smile staff at headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia are presently coordinating with counterparts within Operation Smile Vietnam (OSV) to coordinate all ground logistics for the mission. As one of Operation Smile's 26 partner countries, OSV has been based in Hanoi since 1988 and has recruited top medical volunteers from the country for this inaugural mission to Lao Cai. Tomorrow, OSV will purchase medicines for the mission such as antibiotics, IV solutions and operating room pharmaceuticals. The Tet New Year is expected to slow preparations as celebrates from February 5-12, but representatives from OSV will fact-find the Lao Cai site during the next two days to confirm final plans with members of the Lao Cai General Hospital No. 1 before an anticipated arrival of bad weather sets in for the region.    

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