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Patient Story China

Walk Alongside Shijun

Thirteen-year-old Shijun, before surgery. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

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Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Despite the love of her husband and family, Rong Zhen's cleft condition prevented her from being truly happy for 57 years.
Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
For Yi Miang's parents, they expressed their deep gratitude by writing a letter to the volunteers who helped change their son's life.
Despite the love of her husband and family, Rong Zhen's cleft condition prevented her from being truly happy for 57 years.
For Yi Miang's parents, they expressed their deep gratitude by writing a letter to the volunteers who helped change their son's life.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep families safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

As a fifth grader, the one thing Shijun wanted most was to study his favorite subjects of literature and math. 

But being born with a cleft lip and palate in the Guangdong Province of China, he struggled to enjoy his time at school with the bullying he faced on a regular basis. 

Although the harassment he received made him angry, Shijun chose to walk away instead of fighting with those who treated him badly. 

It pained Shijun's parents to witness their son endure the hurtful comments and isolation. But there was something that always gave them hope: They knew surgery to repair Shijun's cleft condition was possible.

Paidong, Shijun’s dad, had a cousin who received surgery to repair his cleft condition and now lives a happier life. 

This knowledge of a solution motivated Paidong to search tirelessly for the care his son needed. 

But for years, Paidong was left disappointed after each attempt: The cost of surgery was beyond his means and impossible for his family to pay despite his yearly salary as a construction worker. 

During one of his attempts, Paidong traveled to Guiyang to see a doctor who he hoped could help. The transportation to the city cost approximately 10% of Paidong’s annual income. And even after the immense cost, Shijun couldn’t receive surgery, and the family once again returned home with no results. 

Operation Smile believes that parents should never have to choose between keeping a roof over their family’s head or the care that their child needs to stay healthy.

Shijun and his dad, Paidong, walk side by side to the hospital. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

This cycle of frustration and heartbreak came to an end when Shijun's uncle discovered new information while visiting a friend at a local hospital in Bijie City.

After mentioning to the nurse that his nephew had a cleft lip, they immediately told him about Operation Smile China.

Learning that the organization had a surgical program scheduled in Dafang in the coming weeks, Shijun’s uncle rushed home to tell his family the exciting news.

Just like every other attempt at getting his son surgery, Paidong felt both hopeful and anxious in the weeks leading up to the Operation Smile China surgical program. But he was filled with relief knowing that his family wouldn't be responsible for the cost of transportation to the mission site and the surgical care Shijun would hopefully receive.

Soon, it was time for Shijun and his uncle to travel to the mission. Paidong made plans to return to Dafang County to meet them at the mission site – there was no way he would miss this opportunity.

Paidong, left, registers Shijun for screening during a 2016 Operation Smile China surgical mission in Dafang. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

After a comprehensive health evaluation, Shijun was cleared for surgery by our volunteer medical team and scheduled for his operation to repair his cleft lip.

When it comes to our work of delivering exceptional cleft care to people around the world, the safety of our patients has been, and will always be, our greatest priority.

Throughout the screening process, medical volunteers take patients’ blood pressure, temperature and other vitals to ensure that there are no underlying health concerns that would risk the patient's safety during surgery.

Shijun bravely walks into the operating room with anesthesiologist Dr. Daniel Kim of Brazil. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Volunteer plastic surgeon Dr. Shu Maoguo of China, center, and plastic surgeon observer Dr. Brad Gandolfi of the U.S., left, perform surgery on 13-year-old Shijun. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

On the morning of his scheduled surgery, Shijun was excited and couldn’t wait to see his new smile for the first time. He began to think of everything he wanted to do after surgery including play basketball with his friends without fear of being teased.

When he looked in the mirror and saw his smile for the first time, he said, “Thank you, thank you I feel good.”

Shijun stares at his new smile in the mirror the morning after his cleft surgery. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

A few days following his surgery, Shijun returned to his grandparents’ home where family and neighbors were thrilled to see how much of a difference one surgery can make.

There were weeks filled with happiness among his family and friends. But a tragic accident halted all celebrations when Shijun fell and broke his leg, delaying his cleft palate surgery.

Paidong shared with us that he works hard to earn enough money to pay for the surgeries Shijun needs to recover from the compound fracture.

But he’s grateful to Operation Smile China and its devoted community of volunteers who took care of his son. Paidong knows that when it's time, he will not have the financial burden of also paying for Shijun’s cleft palate surgery.

Looking at Shijun today, it’s difficult to tell that he once had a cleft lip.

Operation Smile is committed to providing patients with health that lasts – we look forward to providing Shijun with the additional surgery he needs for his cleft palate and any other essential treatments he needs to live a happier and healthier life. 

Help us keep our promise to patients like Shijun amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can continue to help them through these uncertain times and provide them with the surgery they deserve when it's safe to resume our work around the world.

Shijun smiles wide one year after surgery. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.