Giving New Life to the Most Vulnerable in Laos

August 24, 2020 | Smile Train

Dr. Kingphouthone Saythala started his career as a resident at Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane, Laos, expecting to end up specializing in internal medicine. But he soon found himself most inspired by the care the hospital’s former head of surgery, Dr. Kertmy Khansulivong, provided for children with clefts.

At Dr. Khansulivong’s side, Dr. Saythala witnessed how, for so many, being born with a cleft was a sentence to a life of needless sickness, malnutrition, and ostracization. Yet, in the brand-new smiles of countless children crying their first tears of joy, he also witnessed how cleft surgery completely transformed — and even saved — lives in ways that went far beyond surgery. “Dr. Khansulivong taught me everything I know about cleft surgery,” Dr. Saythala said.

Dr. Saythala

When Dr. Khansulivong passed away, Dr. Saythala committed himself to carrying his work forward by making Mahosot a Smile Train partner hospital so that their cleft team could reach even more children.

Dr. Saythala

“We are confronted with the very harsh reality of people abandoning their child at birth because of cultural beliefs,” he lamented. “The most challenging thing about treating clefts here is the remoteness of some areas. We have a small population distributed over a large area, which makes it difficult to spread information. That’s why it’s so vital that Smile Train also sponsors free transportation to the hospital for those in need, in addition to the cleft surgery itself. Both are lifesaving for rural families living in poverty.”

Dr. Saythala with a patient

It’s this dedication to healing the whole child that’s motivated him to perform 92 cleft surgeries in just two years. It’s hard, exhausting work, but changing lives and helping kids smile never gets old. “When you give someone a cleft surgery, you give them a new life.”


Donations from people like you are what makes Dr. Saythala’s work — and that of more than 2,100 other heroic medical professionals the world —possible. Give a smile to a child in need right now.