The Power of Passion: Operation Smile Nurses Marlene Do and Karina Olivo

Volunteer Story
Operation Smile Canada volunteer nurse Marlene Do with a patient. Photo courtesy of Marlene Do.
Operation Smile volunteer nurse Marlene Do of Canada poses with a patient during a medical mission. Photo courtesy of Marlene Do.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We're helping front-line health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

When it comes to caring for a child, there are many aspects of her work as a volunteer that Marlene Do enjoys.

According to Marlene, a devoted Operation Smile volunteer nurse from Canada, the children she meets on medical missions are what keep her coming back for more.

They remind her that, despite needing to be resilient during life’s most challenging times, there are opportunities to enjoy life and smile in the smaller moments.

The stickers and bubbles that she uses to play and bond with patients during screening aren’t just for them. They can be for her, too.

Photo courtesy of Marlene Do.

Donating her time and skills as a nurse on seven medical programs, Marlene often witnesses just how much surgery can positively impact a child’s growth, development, speech and overall quality of life.

As a patient progresses, the organization does as well.

Out of the 51 volunteer positions on an Operation Smile international medical mission, 19 positions are filled by nurses, representing 36 percent of all our medical volunteers.

Nurses like Marlene are the only medical volunteers who actively provide care for patients at every stage of the surgical cleft care process.

“Operation Smile [provides] their patient population with comprehensive cleft care,” Marlene said. “They are provided with access to so many specialists like child life specialists, speech language pathologists, dentists and orthodontists. [The organization invests] in the future of the countries they work in by capacity building through teaching and mentorship.”

Operation Smile volunteer nurse Karina Olivo of Canada. Photo courtesy of Karina Olivo.
Operation Smile volunteer nurse Karina Olivo of Canada. Photo courtesy of Karina Olivo.

Regardless of their subspecialty, Operation Smile nurses like Marlene and Karina Olivo possess specific skillsets and knowledge that contribute to the promise of providing every patient with the exceptional care that they deserve.

“I became an Operation Smile volunteer 10 years ago, for the same reason I pursued nursing,” Karina said. “I wanted to help bring care to those who might otherwise never receive it due to lack of access. The collaboration, learning and flexibility that allow teams to work towards the same goal never ceases to amaze me.”

Early on in her career, during her first rotation in a children’s hospital, Karina recognized her desire to become an advocate for children and their families, allowing her the opportunity to become a pediatric nurse.

Karina then began testing out different areas of the nursing medical field — from a bedside nurse to education to management — that empowered and enriched her with every experience, as both a professional and a human being.

“Nurses are the glue that hold health care together,” Karina said. “For many people, [they are] the only health care professional they will have contact with.”

With 2020 being the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, stories like Karina and Marlene’s are the ones we hope will inspire the next generation of nurses and celebrate the people who are instrumental in changing the lives of patients and their families around the world.

Help more nurses like Karina and Marlene continue to change the lives of patients living with cleft. Your support today means that we can keep our promise to our patients and provide them with the surgery and care they need when it's safe to resume our work around the world.

Our Co-Founder Kathy Magee's Message to Nurses Around the World