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Members of the Woman’s Club of Suffolk helped make dolls for Operation Smile during a daylong doll workshop on Tuesday. The dolls are used for comfort and to prepare young patients about to undergo facial surgery.
Members of the Woman’s Club of Suffolk helped make dolls for Operation Smile during a daylong doll workshop on Tuesday. The dolls are used for comfort and to prepare young patients about to undergo facial surgery.

Archived Story

Women make ‘Smile dolls’

Published 9:01pm Saturday, March 30, 2013

More than 100 dolls will be sent to Operation Smile thanks to the Woman’s Club of Suffolk, which held its annual doll workshop last week.

The dolls, which were made in conjunction with ladies from Bethlehem Christian Church, are used not only to provide a comfort item for children undergoing facial surgery in foreign countries through Operation Smile, but also to prepare the children for surgery.

“The doctors use them to draw on their face and show what they’re going to do,” said Melva West, a member of the Woman’s Club who has been on 23 Operation Smile missions to 11 different countries.

West has been a supporter of Operation Smile ever since it started — and for good reason.

The charity’s founder, Dr. William P. Magee Jr., performed facial reconstruction surgery on West’s daughter after she was kicked by a horse as a child. When Magee founded Operation Smile, West began volunteering.

“I think it’s a desire to make a difference in the world,” West said.

Operation Smile has long been supported by the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs, and the Woman’s Club of Suffolk has done projects for more than 35 years.

West’s missions have included trips to four continents, including countries such as Cambodia, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Kenya, China, Senegal, India and the Philippines.

Teams screen between 250 and 400 potential patients on each mission and wind up doing surgery on about 150, said West, who is the treasurer of the Woman’s Club of Suffolk. Patients whose conditions require complex surgery or those who are too sick or malnourished to undergo the procedure cannot be operated on during that visit.

“We don’t take any chances,” said West, who helps screen potential patients during the trips.

The surgeries can be life-changing for those who receive them. Many facial deformities, including cleft lips and cleft palates, can cause children to be shunned by those who live around them. It also causes problems with eating, exacerbating malnourishment.

The dolls, which the woman made from material cut from patterns, sewn and stuffed, are only a small part of the Operation Smile mission, but they are important.

“They serve a lot of purposes,” Woman’s Club member Phyllis Byrum said.

West said the patients who receive Operation Smile surgeries are always grateful for the help.

“They appreciate you so much,” West said. “It makes you have a whole different perspective.”

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