11 minute read

Operation Smile, Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History

6435 Tidewater Drive
Norfolk, Virginia 23509

Company Perspectives:

Throughout the world, Operation Smile volunteers to repair childhood facial deformities while building public and private partnerships tha t advocate for sustainable healthcare systems for children and famili es. Together, we create smiles, change lives, heal humanity.

History of Operation Smile, Inc.

Operation Smile, Inc. is a private, nonprofit volunteer medical servi ces organization that provides free reconstructive surgery and relate d healthcare to children of developing countries and the United State s, with special attention to cleft lips and cleft palates. In additio n, Operation Smile provides medical training to physicians and other healthcare professionals around the world in order to encourage self- sufficiency. Through these efforts, the organization brings together healthcare professionals within the public and private medical sector s to provide volunteer care in order to improve the quality of life o f the children treated by Operation Smile.

Humble Beginnings: 1967-82

Bill Magee intended to be a dentist. The son of a general practitione r and one of 12 children, he had modest plans for his life. His high school sweetheart, Kathy, planned to be a nurse. "We had pretty conve ntional goals," Bill said, "We thought we'd get married, have a bunch of kids and live in New Jersey."

After getting married in 1967, Bill and Kathy moved to Maryland so th at Bill could finish his last year of dental school. Kathy became a p ublic health nurse, working with those in the poorest neighborhoods o f Baltimore. Then Bill was introduced to facial surgery and was intri gued by it. "I liked the artistry," he said, "Moving people's jaws ar ound; making an attractive face." Over nine years of study followed, including advanced studies in Switzerland, Germany, and Scotland. In addition, he was awarded the Hays-Fulbright Scholar Grant and receive d training under Dr. Paul Tessier, the father of craniofacial surgery . After his studies, Magee and his wife settled down in Norfolk, Virg inia, presumably to begin the life they had initially planned. Bill b egan a private practice, while also performing surgery for economical ly challenged children in Virginia. In so many ways, they had come fa r from their working-class neighborhood in Fort Lee, New Jersey. None theless they had no idea what lay ahead and how much further they wou ld be stretched.

In 1982, a trip to the Philippines changed Bill and Kathy's life fore ver. The trip consisted of a group of American healthcare professiona ls volunteering their time in order to operate on children who were s uffering from cleft lips and cleft palates. Bill's intent for the tri p was to learn. "I wanted to become better as a surgeon," recalled Bi ll, "but what I saw changed my life." During the five-day trip, with the surgical team working 16-hour days, nearly 150 children in three cities were operated on. They had changed the lives of these children and their families, but Bill Magee felt wracked with guilt. Each ope ration took less than an hour, a fact that he was struck with every d ay when taking his lunch break. In the time it took him to eat his lu nch, another child's life could be completely changed. For the good t hey had done, the experience was heartbreaking and emotionally exhaus ting. "Everywhere we turned, there was a sea of deformities," Kathy s aid. "People pushed their babies at us, tugged at our sleeves with te ars in their eyes and begged us to help their children."

Arriving back in Norfolk, the question was not whether to continue he lping those children in need, but how to do so. They gave their under taking a name, Operation Smile, and decided that the best way to star t was with a grassroots effort. Their flame of excitement quickly lit a fire and soon Operation Smile became a citywide mission. There wer e bake sales and potluck dinners, and, armed with donated surgical su pplies and equipment, the Magees arrived back in Manila with 18 volun teer doctors, nurses, and technicians. This time they were able to he lp 200 children, but hundreds more remained on the waiting list and t housands more were just beginning to hear of their efforts. Although it seemed nearly impossible, the Magees were determined to return aga in. It was clear that Operation Smile was to become a permanent endea vor.

Dead tired, the Magees were spurred ahead by the visions of those who waited for them to return. They went about asking for help. They sea rched for volunteers for the missions, surgeons, nurses, dentists, sp eech therapists, psychologists, and physical therapists. They searche d for private donors and corporate sponsors and help from every organ ization they could think of. The goals of the mission spread by word- of-mouth. The astonishing fact that each cleft lip and palate surgery cost about $250 and took only about 45 minutes to perform moved many people. The volunteers that they had taken on their second trip went home with their own stories of those whom they had helped and th e hundreds more waiting to be helped. The response was overwhelming.

Dream Growing into Reality: 1982-2002

Many prominent companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Abbott Laboratories, committed to providing long-term gifts-in-kind. These d onations, consisting of pharmaceuticals, surgical instruments, and me dical supplies, were not only appreciated, but were inherent to the s uccess of each mission. In 2005, Operation Smile was in need of anest hesia for trips to Lima, Peru. Abbott Labs quickly donated the needed medicine and sent a representative to witness how the product contri butions benefited the children treated by Operation Smile. In additio n, the company donated an annual supply worth about $500,000.

Service organizations also quickly became an integral part of Operati on Smile's success. Groups such as the General Federation of Women's Clubs raised money for missions and, according to Operation Smile, do nated many personal hygiene products, quilts, toys, and hospital gown s. Members of Rotary International also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars of support over the years, as well as giving countless hou rs of time.

On one of the first missions, Bridgette Magee, Bill and Kathy's daugh ter, accompanied them. Touched by Bridgette's compassion and unique s trength on the mission, Kathy asked her daughter and her daughter's f riend, Danny Rosen, to host a fundraiser. They would be raising money for the school in the Filipino community that they had served in. To gether, Bridgette and Danny were able to assemble a group of students willing to give their time and efforts to children in need. This gro up collected money and books for the school. Far surpassing their ori ginal goals, they raised enough funds to build an entire wing on the school. In the grassroots tradition of Operation Smile, word spread o f this student group and quickly other groups were formed around the world. Thousands of high school and college students created Student Associations in the United States, Asia, Africa, and Latin America an d, according to Operation Smile, "annually contributed approximately $400,000 to the surgical costs of children, as well as donating h undreds of toys and school supplies for the patients and their famili es."

In 1996, Operation Smile received the first Conrad N. Hilton Humanita rian Prize, a $1 million donation. According to Management Rev iew, the Hilton Prize was about one-quarter of Operation Smile's annual cash budget at the time. "We were really humbled by [the Hilto n Prize]. There were a large number of major organizations in the wor ld that had applied for it," said Bill Magee. "I've often said that O peration Smile is like a funnel, and at the top of the funnel are lit erally thousands of people--many of whom never have a name--and as th e funnel narrows, it comes down to an operating table with a surgeon, anesthesiologist and a nurse." Magee explained that the prize would allow the organization to offer medical care to more than 17,500 yout hs.

In 1999, Operation Smile completed the largest ever surgical mission dedicated to correcting and treating cleft lips and cleft palates. Th e mission, called World Journey of Hope '99, brought "3,000 vo lunteers to 18 countries to treat more than 5,000 children," accordin g to Operation Smile. Medical technology companies such as Becton, Di ckinson & Company donated items including catheters, ACE bandages , and surgical instruments. "Supporting this journey is one way we co ntinue our strong tradition of commitment to meeting the health and m edical needs of communities around the world," said Clateo Castellini , president, chairman, and CEO of Becton, Dickinson. Operation Smile was then able to donate medical and educational equipment to each of the host countries in an effort to encourage better healthcare.

Unfortunately, also in 1999, Operation Smile faced some anonymous all egations regarding the charity's management and the quality of its me dical care. Prompted by the death of a patient in China and charges o f shoddy surgical practices, the organization underwent an independen t review. According to The New York Times, "the charity came u nder increasing criticism from volunteers, members of its board and f oreign doctors, who said the charity was practicing assembly-line med icine by putting volume ahead of patient safety." In early 2000, Oper ation Smile acknowledged that there had been some improper oversight, and promised its worldwide chapters "sweeping changes." Amid some co ntroversy, the organization continued its missions.

The year 2000 brought some exposure for Operation Smile and Bill Mage e in the Information Technology (IT) industry. Speaking at the World Congress 2000 on Information Technology (WCIT), Magee lobbied for the use of IT within the medical services world. The Central News Age ncy (Taiwan) quoted Magee as saying that Operation Smile "has alr eady conducted 'long-distance, cross-continent' craniofacial surgical procedures through the medium of television conferencing and the Int ernet." Magee noted that several surgical procedures had been perform ed in Cambodia by local surgeons with direction from plastic surgeons in the United States. The direction was received via a broadband Int ernet system. Magee also stated that he planned to create an online c ollege for medical personnel in underdeveloped countries in the hopes that through Internet teaching, they would be able to "upgrade their practices." Magee's speech was well-received, and, according to the< I> New Straits Times, "captured the hearts of his audience."

20th Anniversary and Beyond

In 2002, Operation Smile celebrated its 20th anniversary, marking it with a trip to the Philippines. The anniversary mission involved four sites, including the site of the original mission in 1982. Since its inception, the operation had expanded to cover many other cities in that country as well as outreach to 19 other nations.

Over the next years, the Magees' vision continued to grow much in the way it was begun. The grassroots efforts that were so much a part of the operation's beginning continued to be an essential aspect of its continuation. In 2003, hikers from Atlanta, Georgia, climbed Mount K ilimanjaro in an effort to raise $100,000 for Operation Smile. St udent groups had bake sales and car washes with the belief that every little bit helped. Women's groups sewed hospital gowns and held Bing o nights. On a larger scale, Sephora introduced a lip balm whose net proceeds benefited Operation Smile.

In 2005, a man named Jeffrey Kramer wrote and directed a film called< I> Smile. The movie was loosely based on the work done by Operati on Smile. Kramer stated that the film was fiction, but, in his words, "based on 80,000 true stories." Some of the film's proceeds were sla ted to be donated to Operation Smile, but, "more importantly," Kathy Magee said, "is the inspiration the film could evoke in young people. " According to her, "they become volunteers for the future." That yea r, Operation Smile could proudly state that "more than 90,000 childre n have been treated by thousands of volunteers in 25 countries and mo re than 10,000 healthcare professionals have been trained."

According to the Cleft Palate Foundation, one of every 700 newborns b orn in the United States is affected by cleft lip and/or cleft palate . However, there were very few studies indicating the amount of child ren born with such defects in countries such as the Philippines and I raq. Regardless of the numbers, Operation Smile vowed that "the promi se Bill and Kathy Magee made years ago will not be fulfilled until ev ery child with a correctable facial deformity is given a chance to sm ile."

Principal Competitors: The American Red Cross; Boys & Girl s Clubs of America; Make-A-Wish Foundation of America; March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation; United Way of America; Volunteers of Ameri ca, Inc.; YMCA of the USA.


  • Key Dates:
  • 1982: Operation Smile is founded by Dr. William and Kathleen M agee.
  • 1996: Operation Smile receives the first Conrad N. Hilton Huma nitarian Prize.
  • 1999: World Journey of Hope '99 mission commences.
  • 2002: Operation Smile celebrates 20th anniversary.
  • 2005: Movie Smile is released.

Additional topics

Company HistoryNonprofits & Community Organizations

This web site and associated pages are not associated with, endorsed by, or sponsored by Operation Smile, Inc. and has no official or unofficial affiliation with Operation Smile, Inc..