As Chicago-based dentists, Joanne Oppenheim-Kromash and her husband Ken Kromash were well aware that children born with clefts often face a variety of dental issues; so much so that they have provided pro-bono dental care to local children born with clefts who were unable to afford it. So, in 2006, when the couple learned that Smile Train was doing similar work helping children born with clefts in the developing world, they made their very first donation.
In 2015, Joanne and Ken announced that they were going to Ecuador on Facebook. Joanne’s long-time friend, Smile Train’s Central Region Development Director Ellyn Harris, saw the post and replied with an intriguing offer. Ellyn offered to connect the two with Smile Train local partners in Ecuador so that they could see Smile Train programs firsthand — Joanne and Ken gladly accepted.
In Ecuador, Joanne and Ken visited local Smile Train partner Hospital de Dia Ninos de le Mano de Maria where they toured the facilities, sat in on a speech therapy session, met the doctors that are on the ground 365 days a year, and talked with Smile Train patients and their families. Joanne and Ken returned the hospital’s kindness when they donated several bags full of dental supplies.
Two years after the life-changing journey to Ecuador, Joanne and Ken’s daughter Jacqueline was interning at a school in Ghana and reported to her parents that many of the children had never seen a dentist before. Just a few weeks later, the husband and wife team traveled to Ghana and performed 200 dental exams and even connected with a local dentist to treat any of the children still needing dental treatment. During the visit, once again, Ellyn connected Joanne and Ken with local Smile Train partners, as they were so moved by their short time in Ecuador.
Joanne and Ken were greeted in Kumasi by Smile Train’s West and Central Africa Program Director Nkeiruka Obi (NK), and the group headed to Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. During the hospital tour, Joanne noticed that one of the partner surgeons was having difficulty getting an infant to open her mouth — as a pediatric dentist, Joanne knows how difficult that this can be, so she shared a few of her techniques and the infant was soon opening widely.
Next, the group joined the hospital’s social worker, who was driving around in rural areas looking for cleft patients. Joanne reported that the social worker expertly talked a village chief into allowing a local child to receive a cleft surgery.
Then, Joanne and Ken went to meet a former Smile Train patient. Joanne described the visit: “The family lived in a remote area in difficult conditions, but they were so loving and supportive — so happy. The mother was also born with a cleft and she was very shy — but, more so, thankful to Smile Train that her daughter didn’t have to grow up with an untreated cleft. The child’s cleft treatment was so good that she may never know that she had a problem – the course of her life had changed forever.”
After returning home, Joanne shared pictures and the experiences with the Chicago Dental Society with the hopes that other dentists would be made aware of Smile Train’s work. Joanne finished with the following sentiment to other Smile Train supporters, “Some of you may never witness Smile Train’s programs in action, but I’ve seen how it changes these families lives — the family in Ghana couldn’t afford a surgery, and that girl would be living a completely different life without it. Picture yourself not being able to help your child if you were in the same situation — please give if you are able.”
If you would like to join Joanne and Ken in their support of Smile Train and help us provide more children around the world with new smiles and second chances at life, please make a gift today.
If you are interested in seeing Smile Train’s impact firsthand, please visit the Journey of Smiles section of our site.