Connor’s Journey Led Him to Give Birthday Smiles

Volunteer Story
For the third year in a row, Connor Dawson is raising funds for Operation Smile in lieu of birthday gifts. Photo courtesy of the Dawson family.
For the third year in a row, Connor Dawson is raising funds for Operation Smile in lieu of birthday gifts. Photo courtesy of the Dawson family.

Born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, soon-to-be-12-year-old Connor Dawson refuses to let the condition define him.

Yet, through the adversity that multiple surgeries have posed to him and his family, Connor is determined to bring the hope and healing that he’s experienced to children who lack the chance to receive the care that they need and deserve.

Inspired by his own experiences and the life-changing work of Operation Smile, Connor is raising funds for the organization in lieu of birthday gifts for the third year in a row this January.

“Connor’s cleft made him stronger. It gave him insight into pain and struggle and a heart full of empathy,” said Connor’s mom, Meghan Dawson. “Even though this journey, Connor’s cleft story, was difficult and arduous and painful, it was one we were blessed to make. Others are not so lucky.”

As many as nine out of 10 people in low- and middle-income countries cannot access basic surgical care, and they can endure years of bullying, social isolation and severe health problems because of an untreated cleft condition. Sometimes early cleft surgery isn’t accessible due to lack of financial resources or the availability of qualified medical staff and other factors that make surgery safe and available. When cleft surgery is an option, the cost can be a devastating expense for families. It takes as little as $240 for a child to receive life-changing cleft surgery through Operation Smile.

Connor, before his first cleft lip surgery. Photo courtesy of the Dawson family.
Connor, before his first cleft lip surgery. Photo courtesy of the Dawson family.

Connor’s family became aware of his cleft condition during their 20-week ultrasound, and since that moment, they worked to understand cleft conditions and prepare for the journey ahead.

Through the years ahead, they came to realize that millions of families in low- and middle-income countries are unable for their cleft care journeys to even begin.

Connor, one week following his cleft lip surgery. Photo courtesy of the Dawson family.
Connor, one week following his cleft lip surgery. Photo courtesy of the Dawson family.

Recognizing this dire need, Connor and the Dawson family of Frisco, Texas, started a Smile Fund, Operation Smile’s individual fundraising platform, for his 10th birthday on January 15, 2019, and raised $520, more than enough to help two children with cleft conditions receive new smiles.

In 2020, Connor aimed to raise $480 to again help two children in need of surgery. When their goal was met in less than 24 hours, he decided to increase their goal.  By the end of January, the family raised $1,700, helping Operation Smile provide essential surgery to seven children.

This year, Connor and his family set their goal at $2,400, which can help 10 people receive the new smiles they deserve, bringing each of them renewed hope and health that lasts. His birthday campaign will run through January 31, 2021.

Due to COVID-19, many of Operation Smile’s medical missions have been put on hold until it is safe to resume surgeries. Though the organization is beginning to provide surgeries on a limited scale as it adapts to the pandemic, more than 10,000 children are still waiting for surgery and dental care. In the meantime, their gift will help send test kits, safety equipment, relief supplies and other support to those in need. 

Donations like the ones raised by Connor and his family will not only help patients receive surgery; they also help provide children with virtual services, nutritional care to children, and raise awareness and understanding of cleft lip and cleft palate conditions. Connor is open and honest about his struggles and wants others to know that the comprehensive cleft care Operation Smile provides brings hope and healing to families around the world.

“Having a cleft has been really hard. I wish I didn't have it but at the same time am grateful I've had the surgeries to repair it, even though they hurt,” Connor said. “No child should have to live with an unrepaired cleft. It’s not fair. And that’s why I wanted to partner with Operation Smile. So every child has a chance like I did.”

Photo: Jana Zerpoli Photography
Photo: Jana Zerpoli Photography