Craniofacial Expert Helps Put Smile on Faces of Bolivian Children

Craniofacial Expert Helps Put Smile on Faces of Bolivian Children

Operation Smile

Kelly Mabry just wants to help put a bright shiny smile on the faces of children all over the world – especially those who suffer from a cleft lip or palate.

And after assessing more than 300 children in Bolivia this fall as part of a week-long volunteer effort to help kids with a cleft, the associate professor of communication disorders at Southern has made a difference.

“I am so blessed to be able to do this. I feel like the lucky one in being able to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” Mabry said.

Mabry, an expert on craniofacial disorders, participated in Operation Smile’s outreach effort at the Hospital Japones in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Operation Smile is an international children’s medical charity that provides reconstructive surgery on kids who have facial deformities, such as cleft lip and palate, in developing countries.

For Mabry, the effort in Bolivia marked her second volunteer effort in a foreign land. Four years ago, she traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a similar mission, also coordinated by Operation Smile.

“Both nations need help, although Bolivia has a somewhat better infrastructure to provide people with medical care,” she said. “Nevertheless, even most of the poorer people in the United States would live like kings if they took their money to live in these countries. That’s the kind of poverty in which many of the poor kids are living.”
The Mansfield resident noted that 115 surgeries were performed to help those in need as part of Operation Smile’s recent effort, which included an international team of doctors and other health professionals. Mabry was responsible for prioritizing the surgical needs of the children, noting that those who had any functional difficulty in the ability to eat and drink properly were put at the top of the list for surgical interventions. She also screened the children for speech problems that were related to cleft palates.

A cleft is an opening in the lip or the roof of the mouth that occurs during early pregnancy. A child can suffer from a cleft lip or cleft palate, or both. If left untreated, this birth defect can cause serious medical complications, such as malnutrition, because of the functional difficulty in eating or drinking.

Mabry is already planning her next volunteer effort – this one coming in March in Guayaquil, Ecuador, as part of an initiative sponsored by the Global Smile Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts that also specializes in caring for people with cleft lip and palate deformities.

She created an Operation Smile Club on campus several years ago – a club that seeks to help others in the Third World with similar health problems. Thanks to a fundraiser conducted by the SCSU club, Mabry brought with her about 50 toothbrushes that she distributed to the Bolivian children.

Mabry’s passion for craniofacial disorders sparked her to pursue a Ph.D. in communication disorders, which she earned in 2002 from the University of Connecticut. She has served on craniofacial teams as a speech pathologist since 1988 and is currently a member of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Craniofacial Team in Hartford.