'Operation Smile Club' helps comfort young patients undergoing cleft treatment

A local high school student is giving young patients in our community a reason to smile. 

She and other students surprised patients who were undergoing cleft treatment for cleft lip or cleft palate Monday.  Cleft conditions are one of the top ten birth defects in the world.

Julia Gormley, 16, has a passion for giving back. 

"A simple act of kindness, like a smile bag, can make a bigger difference than you think," Gormley, a junior at Winter Park High School, said.

Gormley started volunteering with the global non-profit, Operation Smile. The organization has helped hundreds of thousands of cleft patients with surgeries and procedures over the years, and Gormley thought the idea behind it was so special that she started her own "Operation Smile club" at her school.

Gormley and seven other students, including Jackie Northcote, Mari Avila, Sophia Cappens, Micah Yaeger, Sara Freitas, Lourdes Feruggio, and Franca Feruggio, delivered about 20 smile bags to babies and toddlers undergoing cleft treatment at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando Monday.

"The point of the smile bags is to really boost morale because it’s really difficult and emotionally taxing for the parents to have to hand their babies over to a surgeon," she said.

The students decorated the bags, which are meant to provide comfort to the patients and their families.

Each bag includes a stuffed animal, a children’s book, baby sunscreen to protect the child’s skin after surgery, and a handwritten card from the Smile Club.

"Most of them say on the cover ‘you are so loved’ and inside it says’ we are cheering for you.’"

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