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November marks an important milestone for Operation Smile and its Journey of Miracles. The journey began 20 years ago when the life-changing medical organization traveled to Vietnam to give kids with severe facial deformities a new look and a new lease on life. Since that time, Operation Smile has treated more than 30,000 kids in Vietnam and more than 135,000 worldwide.

This month Operation Smile returns to Vietnam with 16 simultaneous medical programs, which will transform the lives of another 1,000 kids.

In a salute to its medical missions in the area, Vietnam was selected as the theme for this year’s Operation Smile Gala. Longtime supporters Roma Downey and Mark Burnett joined cofounders Dr. William P. Magee and his wife, Kathleen, for an evening of entertainment and inspiration at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

After being touched by a storyline on her “Touched by an Angel” television show, Roma became an ambassador for Operation Smile. She has gone on several missions including Vietnam, and last year took her entire family to Jordan to witness the medical miracles first hand.

At the Smile gala, she shared the story of a Vietnamese boy named Thanh, who was so badly deformed he could barely eat, drink or speak. His life was forever changed when the Operation Smile team arrived in his small village. Thanh was selected for surgery and by the end of the day he had a reason to smile. Roma described his mother’s face lighting up “with gratitude beyond words,” adding that “As a mother myself, I was deeply impacted. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced.”


Like Roma, many of this year’s honorees had their own personal stories to tell. Roselyn Sanchez and Eric Winter shared their memories of an Operation Smile trip to Central America. “We did our first mission two years ago in Nicaragua and it was one of the most amazing things we have ever done,” Eric recalled. “We made a difference by just being there. To see how something so simple can make such a huge difference in a child’s life is mind-blowing.”

Joining Eric and Roselyn on the honor role were toy king Stephen Berman of JAKKS Pacific and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan. A special presentation was made to the Simpson family-Jessica, Ashlee, Tina and Joe-for their support of Operation Smile.

Although an operation only costs a few hundred dollars, William P. Magee said the payoffs are priceless. “We’ve seen improved relations between the United States and Vietnam,” he said. “Medicine is a very, very powerful vehicle and it’s the power of children that unites us.” The event raised more than $1.75 million to create more smiles worldwide.

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