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Operation Smile works to provide free, safe cleft surgery

Operation Smile is a global effort to provide safe and free cleft surgery in more than 40 countries around the world. Some of that effort is rooted in Folsom.

FOLSOM, Calif. — A cleft lip or cleft palate is one of the most common birth defects in the country. It's when the lip doesn't fuse correctly in the womb.

The severity of it can range from a minor cosmetic fix to an essential surgery. It's standard in the U.S. but less fortunate countries don't have easy access.

That's where global nonprofit Operation Smile comes in. It specalizes in safe cleft surgery and care at no cost to the patient. 

West Coast Development Director Joan Gachuhi is a Sacramento State Hornet and Folsom resident. She says she's always wanted the opportunity to serve her community.

"As a first generation Kenyan American, I have on many occasions been on the receiving end of what we call Harambe, which means 'all pull together.' For me to be able to give back to my community, be able to put my my talents to a mission that improves people's lives, that is all I could ask for," said Gachuhi.

It's set a new goal to care for 1 million patients and she's helping raise the funds.

"In less than 45 minutes we can bring immediate transformation to a child's life, helping them to be able to breathe better, be able to eat better, and be able to speak better. You know, live a greater quality of life and be confident as they take on the world," said Gachuhi.

Operation Smile serves in more than 40 countries around the world. Every medical professional involved is also a volunteer.

Associate Vice President for U.S. Philanthropy, Amber Leonti, says it allows all the money raised to go straight into making the work they do more efficient.

"You're not only like changing the life of a child, you're changing the life of every child that child interacts with. So, their family, their friends, the community they live in. They can live a happier, healthy, more productive life," said Leonti.

If you would like to donate to Operation Smile, you can visit this website.

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