As little as 45 minutes to change a life

By Dr. William P. Magee, Jr.

On the 30th of January, football fans poured into the Calabesh, formally known as the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. Fans streamed onto the terraces to see two powerhouse rivals; the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates face off in the Soweto Derby; the FA Cup Final of South Africa. Thousands of people packed the stands and millions more across the globe excitedly watched on television.

All of them watched the furiously contested match they expected but this time, viewers also saw something more personal and dramatic than even the football match unfold before their very eyes. 

To coincide with the Soweto Derby, Operation Smile South Africa launched Operation 45; an initiative that provided life-changing care to 9-month-old Alexzander and 11-month-old Ofentse and featured their surgeries during the match.

Dr Anil Madaree, one of South Africa’s most distinguished plastic and reconstructive surgeons along with a team of doctors and nurses, repaired Alexzander’s and Ofentse’s cleft lips, saving them from years of discrimination and marginalisation because of their condition. Whether football fans were in the stadium on 30th of January or watching on television, they were able to witness the outcome of these transformational surgeries.

Dr Madaree chose to showcase the two surgeries at the Soweto Derby because we all have the ability to change a person’s entire life, and this takes as little as 45 minutes, the length of a football match. Dr Madaree chose to do this because there are billions of people around the world who lack access to any surgical care and because we know that there are many other children around the world who would seek out this surgical care if they knew that it was available.

Alex's mother and grandparents agree that he now has a beautiful smile thanks to Operation Smile South Africa. Consider how much need there is for this surgery and how scarce resources can be for so many. Every day parents are heartbroken because they cannot help their children. That is why we want everyone to know that it takes as few as 45 minutes to change a life through this surgery.

We want parents and guardians of children with cleft lip and cleft palate to know that they don’t have to live with this burden. We want people of good will everywhere to understand that this surgery should be routine. It takes such little time and a very modest contribution from supporters.

We ask you, on behalf of all our patients and the children who still need surgery to remember Operation 45 and the life-changing and inspiring surgery that can take place in as little as 45 minutes. It is possible to make the world better, and it doesn’t take long at all.

Dr. William P. Magee, Jr. is the CEO and Co-Founder of Operation Smile and a leading plastic and craniofacial surgeon. Under Dr. Magee’s leadership, Operation Smile has become one of the largest volunteer-based organizations providing free cleft surgeries around the world. Dr. Magee was recently the recipient of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award in 2015.

“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President