Nuala's story

Nuala Dee, one of our volunteer nurses from Cork, recently returned from a medical mission in Honduras. We caught up with Nuala to find out about her trip, her love for Operation Smile, and how she's been impacted by her volunteering experience.


I heard of Operation Smile through a work colleague, and was really impressed with the work the charity does for underprivileged children born with cleft lip and cleft palate, all of whom receive the surgery free of charge and with the cost of travel covered.

I've completed four Operation Smile missions to date. My first three were in Ethiopia, Vietnam, and India. I've just returned from my fourth mission in Honduras where I worked as an operating room nurse and assisted the surgeons and anaesthetists during surgeries. On occasion, the work environment can be very challenging. I have to remember I am in a third world country and the facilities we have here in Ireland are certainly a lot more superior to some I have witnessed. Before each mission I like to familiarise myself with the culture of the country I am traveling to, so that I can understand the culture and context better on arrival.


While each mission is different, the one consistency I've observed is the positive and jubilant team spirit. Many of our team members are meeting one another for the first time, yet within a very short time a close bond is formed as each team member is there for the same reason, to create as many new smiles as possible. 

It's a very humbling experience to watch the children and families arrive at mission sites. The atmosphere can be quite tense, as each child must go through a screening process to see if they are eligible for surgery. It's very frustrating if a child is turned away because they are not healthy enough. For example, it can be heart-breaking to turn away a child because of a simple complaint like a fever. I find it sad when a family travels such a long distance, and their hopes are shattered. But of course, patient safety is the most important thing, and it's comforting to know that child will remain on the Operation Smile contact list, and will be given another chance to get surgery the next time the Operation Smile team return to that region.

Last year in Vietnam I met a 23-year-old man on screening day. He had gone through life with a cleft lip and did not have the finances or resources to have a cleft lip repair, such a simple procedure. When he was told on screening day he was a candidate and would have a cleft lip repair in the coming days, his face lit up. I felt so lucky and privileged to watch the surgery as it was performed and observed him in the recovery room when he was handed a mirror and saw his new smile for the first time. That wonderful experience will always remain with me.


Operation Smile is a wonderful charity, which I am proud to be a part of. I plan to continue to participate on Operation Smile medical missions, because at the end of each mission I know that was a job well done.


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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President