The following was written by Meg Hughes, after returning from visiting Smile Train’s local partners and patients in Haiti.
Do we choose a charity or does the charity choose us? While I wasn’t born with a cleft lip or palate, there have been moments in my life that have led me straight to Smile Train.
I had a typical middle-class upbringing in Philadelphia, where my father worked as a local real estate agent and an insurance agent. I don’t know if other families in the community had medical insurance at the time, but I feel fortunate that we did. Especially because, in 1956 when I was 9 years old, my dentist saw an unusual mass on my lower jaw. An oral surgeon then scheduled me for a biopsy at Pennsylvania Hospital.
For the biopsy, I spent two scary and lonely nights in the children’s ward. My parents spent days dreading whether or not I had cancer or even if I was going to survive. Thankfully, we discovered that the growth wasn’t cancerous, but the diagnosis wasn’t completely encouraging, as the benign fibrous-dysplasia encompassed my entire lower jaw and couldn’t be easily removed.
Over the next 30 years, I had 10 surgeries to keep the growth from distorting my face — including removing all the teeth from that part of my mouth. Eventually, I accepted the multiple hospital stays and doctor visits, but I remained self-conscious about the lump on my face and missing teeth until, later in my life, modern dentistry caught up and I received a prosthetic dental device.
Fast-forward 50 years and my husband is in an assisted-living facility after he had suffered a stroke. When I casually asked one of his aides what her family was doing for the holidays, she told me that they were skipping traditional gifts with the hope they’d gather enough for a $250 donation to Smile Train — enough to provide a free cleft surgery to a child in the developing world. After hearing about this beautiful gesture, I researched Smile Train and decided that I wanted to help children smile too.
Over the next several months, I found helping children smile became contagious. I became a monthly donor and even included Smile Train in my will.
In 2017, I attended a Smile Train supporter event in Sarasota, Florida where I learned about the Journey of Smiles program. When I learned that supporters could witness Smile Train’s programs firsthand, I signed up right away.
That November, a friend and I joined seven other supporters and we journeyed to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti for the trip of a lifetime. At the local Smile Train partner hospital, our group spent time with a child before and after his cleft treatment and even witnessed his surgery. We met his grateful mother, the local medical team, and a former patient who had a successful cleft surgery several years prior — he still had a huge smile on his face.
My family’s terrifying experience at the children’s hospital, my childhood experiences with facial differences, a chance encounter with a dedicated Smile Train supporter, and eventually seeing the power of a Smile Train cleft surgery firsthand have all led me to become a passionate donor and advocate — I believe Smile Train chose me.
Please give what you can — I have seen our supporters’ dollars at work, and words cannot fully describe how gratifying it is knowing that you made a difference in even one child’s life.
If you would like to join Meg in her 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.