By by Spc. Chastity R. Boykin, 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div. PAOJuly 8, 2010
Children in Nasiriyah, Iraq, were given the chance to let their new smiles shine through, when Smile Train Italia Onlus, a worldwide medical charity that provides free surgery to children born with facial deformities, arrived for a week-long medical mission June 20-27 at the Mittica Medical Training Center.
In cooperation with its military counterpart, 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, the Dhi Qar Provincial Reconstruction Team and the Iraqi Ministry of Health worked to help more than 150 Iraqi children who had cleft lips and cleft palates.
The Ministry of Health sent Iraqi doctors and nurses to work alongside the 'Smile Train' team of volunteers to perform corrective surgery and receive hands-on training on new facial surgical techniques they can use in the future.
"Not only are they providing an immediate effect by treating the children, but the lasting effect is gained by training the Iraqi doctors to do the surgery themselves," said Lt. Col. Christopher Engen, commander, 4th Sqdn., 10th Cav. Regt.
A centerpiece of the PRT program is the recently-opened training center at Camp Mittica. Located approximately one kilometer from Tallil Air Base, the former Italian Army base is now home to Iraqi forces. The facility provides a venue for international trainers and medical personnel from various countries, including Italy and the United States.
This is the third time 'Smile Train' has participated in a project with the PRT and MoH. The first time the team offered assistance took place April 2-14, 2005. That team from Smile Train Italia Onlus was composed of 18 volunteer plastic surgeons, anesthetists, pediatric intensive-care physicians and nurses.
The second time occurred between Oct. 23 and Nov. 3, 2008. Between the two visits medical teams completed a total of 199 surgeries for local children.
Mohamed Abd, an Iraqi medical assistant, has helped the Italian medical surgical teams during all three missions. Proud that he can help his people, he hopes there will be more opportunities like the 'Smile Train', he said.
"The Italian doctors share their experiences with surgery, and in turn, we share our experiences and Iraqi culture with them," Mohamed said. "We are able to help our people and learn at the same time."
"We are very pleased with the surgery and care from the doctors and nurses and grateful for this opportunity," said one parent whose child had palate surgery.
For a few children with complex cases, there will be more surgeries to follow, and thanks to the training, these children will be in good hands, said Tracy JoPekar, Dhi Qar PRT healthcare director.
Having local doctors that can provide the correct procedure is a successful step forward for healthcare in Iraq, she said.