APRIL 2018
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Local Teen Helps to Bring 119 Smiles to Ghana

Demarest, NJ: If a single smile can light up a room, just imagine the candlepower of 119 of these joyful expressions. During her recent Operation Smile mission in Ho, Ghana, Samantha Danylchuk of Mahwah saw 119 people smile for the very first time after they received life-changing corrective surgeries for cleft lip and cleft palate.

“It’s very difficult to put this experience into words, but I can tell you that it was just absolutely amazing,” the Academy of the Holy Angels junior noted.

As a member of the Operation Smile club at AHA, Danylchuk has seen many photos of people who needed corrective surgery, but had never met anyone with cleft lip or cleft palate before her trip. She readily connected with the youngest patients, and noted that the babies are unaware of their need for surgery, so they simply play with toys just like any other child.

“It was challenging for me to build a connection with the adults, though, because they've been living with this condition their whole life. When they first arrived at the hospital, the adults would just stare at the ground because they've all been so used to being shunned and ignored by their society, but when they saw our bright smiles and realized we were only trying to help, many of them began spending time with us and seeing that transition was truly incredible,” she explained.

During the summer of 2017, Danylchuk participated in an Operation Smile International Student Leadership Conference in Rome, Italy. This conference is a prerequisite for students from the United States who want to apply for an Operation Smile medical mission.

“Throughout this student conference, I was able to learn so much more about Operation Smile than I had ever imagined, and I met so many people who had already gone on missions tell their stories, and that's when I knew I needed to apply!”

Commenting on her 10-days in Africa, Danylchuck noted, “The full mission took place in Ho, but I also toured Accra for a full day and got to explore its downtown!” Accra, she explained, is Ghana’s main city, and is approximately four hours away from Ho.

Danylchuk worked alongside two other students from the United States, two from South Africa, and two local students from Ghana. These student volunteers presented health modules to the families of the patients. Health module topics include dental hygiene, CPR, tooth brushing, nutrition, oral rehydration therapy, proper hand washing, and burn care.

The volunteers also played with the children on the screening days, when Operation Smile’s health care professionals determine who is eligible for surgery.

“As far as the surgery days, I was able to help out the doctors and nurses in the pre-op and post-op rooms of the hospital, as well as spend time with them in the Child Life center and stand next to the surgeons and observe the patients' surgeries in the OR.”

Operation Smile doctors completed 119 surgeries over a five-day period. Surgeries are funded by donations to Operation Smile, which was founded by Kathleen Magee, an AHA alumna, and her husband William. The organization provides surgeries to people who could not otherwise afford this type of corrective care.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.


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