UMD Students Volunteer for the Smile Network

Giving Children New Lives

umd smile network

Dave Opack, Josh Hohertz and Eric Goldschmidt

Three UMD students recently traveled to Puebla, Mexico to work with Smile Network International. Smile Network's basic charge is to repair birth defects. They fund surgical missions to help repair cleft lips, cleft palates and other conditions requiring surgery. For a donation as little as $500, Smile Network provides surgery free of charge to children.

UMD biology student Dave Opack, of Duluth, used his hand-held video camera to capture images of the town of Puebla and activity in the clinic. Joining Opack was Josh Hohertz, a biology major and biochemistry major Eric Goldschmidt. These UMD seniors all arrived in Mexico late April 2009 with a volunteer surgical team from the Minnesota-based "Smile Network."

"We just kinda helped out," said Opack. "They fix cleft palates and cleft lips for people who can't afford it." All three students cared for the patients pre- and post-operation while providing comfort to the family members who accompanied them.

"The kids came in looking like little monsters and the surgeons would mark them up with a pen," Hohertz said. "It was amazing to see the immediate transformation."

Not only did the students watch plastic surgeons do reconstructive work for children born with deformities, they also played a huge part in organizing the patient's medical records.

"We were trained in medical record keeping at the Texas airport because the original medical record keeper couldn't make the trip," said Hohertz, who recently graduated from UMD with a biology major. "We weren't expecting to help out with the record keeping but we were happy to contribute in any way we could."

Opack and the other students helped doctors screen 110 patients to select 43 children who essentially got new lives. Smile Network relies on donations and volunteers to pay for and perform the surgeries for families that can't afford them.

On top of the financial costs associated with the trip, the three students fundraised an additional $1,300, enough to cover the cost of two surgeries. "We held a magic show at Valentini's in Duluth where all the proceeds went to these surgeries. All three of us rolled up our sleeves and bussed tables the entire night." The students also sent out letters and e-mails to relatives and friends for help with funds.

""It was an eye-opening experience to see these little kids with cleft palate or cleft lip and meet their parents. After the surgery, groups of parents were holding the kids and showing them to each other," said Hohertz. "We could tell it meant so much to them."

Written by Alicia Stockard and Donna O'Neill

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Info: contact Cheryl Reitan, University Relations,, 218-726-8996

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