Spreading smiles to those in need

Dale Maljevac, R.N., a Life Lion Critical Care Transport nurse and Public Relations and Outreach Coordinator, has always wanted to share his smile and spread smiles to those around him. He finally found the perfect opportunity to share his enthusiasm and give back to the community in early November 2009.

This great opportunity came when he was contacted by a former exchange student he and his wife hosted back in 1997. Marian Buzo, whom he calls his Paraguayan daughter, became a coordinator for mission trips to Paraguay with Operation Smile. The organization gives free reconstructive surgery to children who suffer from cleft lips, cleft palates, and other facial deformities. Maljevac will never forget what Marian said to him, “Dad, you have to come.”

Next thing Maljevac knew, he had completed his volunteer paperwork with the organization, was chosen, and on November 4 was on a plane to Paraguay with medical professionals from other health care facilities around the country.

Once the Operation Smile team was assembled and ready, the work began. The team was awake by 5:30 a.m. and went to bed around 11:00 p.m. With his duties as a pre- and post-op nurse, Maljevac prepared the children for surgery by checking their temperature, making sure they wore a hospital gown, and having a physician evaluate them prior to their surgery.  After surgery, he then escorted the young patients to their rooms where they were monitored overnight. The Operation Smile team scheduled 25 surgeries a day and completed a total of 115 surgeries. “I felt so good at the end of the day that I didn’t care that I was tired,” Maljevac said. “It was great to see the smiles on the children’s faces when we were done.”

Maljevac said his experience in Paraguay changed his life. “It gave me a totally new outlook on life. We take so much for granted. Some of the kids did not have shoes, so we gave them shoes. We blew bubbles for them and some had never seen bubbles before. The families were just so grateful of anything that we could do. They didn’t have a lot to give, but they gave little trinkets. One mother was so happy she crocheted me a little knit hat. And I was very happy to accept it from her.”

During another special moment, on the last day of surgery a little girl reached out and came into his arms. She smiled and gave Maljevac a kiss on the cheek which she could not have done without the help offered by Operation Smile.

As children were discharged, Maljevac gave each child Hershey Kisses graciously donated by The Hershey Company. This was his special way of giving each child a “kiss” to go along with their new smile.

He was so touched by his 12-day experience with Operation Smile that he has volunteered for another mission trip to Paraguay in October 2010.

To learn more about Dale Maljevac’s trip with Operation Smile and to view more of his pictures, visit his blog at dalemblogspot.com/. For more information about Operation Smile, visit their official Web site at www.operationsmile.org/.

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