How Dr. Barone Became an Operation Smile Volunteer

Operation Smile was started in 1982 by my plastic surgery instructor Dr. Bill Magee and his wife Kathy.

I first joined Operation Smile in 1988, when I was completing a fellowship in Craniofacial Surgery in Virginia. And now over 30 years later, I am still a volunteer member. I never realized how being a part of Operation Smile and volunteerism would change my life forever, not only as a surgeon but also as a physician and father.

Operation smile logo

What is Operation Smile?

Operation Smile is a volunteer organization that has provided hundreds of thousands of reconstructive plastic surgeries for children born with cleft lip and palate, birth deformities, and traumatic injuries worldwide and in the U.S.

Operation Smile delivers free surgery to people in third-world countries where it is needed most and has mobilized thousands of medical volunteers from a variety of medical specialties from more than 80 nations. Operation Smile is also active in the medical education and training of surgeons, physicians, nurses, and medical workers so that their communities can eventually attain self-sufficiency.

child with lip birth defect

My experience as an Operation Smile volunteer surgeon has taken me on over 30 missions in more than 20 countries and has been an invaluable education not only in my profession of plastic surgery but also in the humanity of helping others in need and how incredible and life-changing that life experience can be.

I was also fortunate enough to start a local chapter of Operation Smile here in Northwest Ohio to provide reconstructive surgery for uninsured local children in the community.

There are so many lifelong memories and emotions that will stay with me forever…..the medical clinics packed with parents and children who had walked many miles and even days for just the chance that their child might be seen and scheduled, the unconditional gratitude from those parents for just your care and attention, the tears on a young mother’s face when she first sees her child with their facial deformity repaired, the positive energy and love of so many volunteers and local medical staff working together to change a child’s life…..priceless and unforgettable.

I have received far more from my Operation Smile missions than I could ever give.

As a surgeon, having that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to evaluate, treat, and take care of more cleft lip and palate and other deformities than I could ever imagine possible, and to do it under very challenging conditions and minimal supplies and equipment, was invaluable.

As a father, witnessing and being a part of the common bond of humanity that unites all of us, beyond cultural, social, religious, and economic boundaries, is the universal human condition of helping a child, made me a better and more appreciative parent and person forever.

I believe that my volunteer experience with Operation Smile continues to impact my life at work and at home every day.

I am grateful and feel so fortunate to have had that special life experience. I have become more appreciative and humbler and aware of the many amazing opportunities and privileges that we as Americans enjoy daily that often go unnoticed.

I will always remember those faces and those eyes; the children, the parents, the local volunteers, and the opportunity to do what we were meant to do.


-Frank Barone, MD, FACS