Smile Train - Victoria and Veronilee

Charity uses virtual surgery simulator to increase number of patients by 10,000%

Approximately 30% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean do not have access to quality health care and 21% do not seek care because of geographical barriers. This can prevent patients from living with a wide variety of medical conditions attending school, work and social activities, and ultimately, hinders local and global development.

Smile Train - the leading global children’s charity which provides free cleft lip and palate repair surgery for children in developing countries - has found an innovative solution to help address some of these social and economic challenges, which patients living with clefts in the developing world often face.

Take Brazil for example. With approximately 4,370 births with cleft incident per year in Brazil, some patients are on waiting lists for up to 3-4 years before getting their cleft lip and/or palate treatment. Responding to this critical need, Smile Train has been able to increase the number of patients served by over 10,000%, from 31 cleft patients served in 2001 to 3,747 patients served in 2016, effectively addressing the problem of cleft and changing the lives of more than 28,000 children in Brazil since 2001.

The charity has achieved this by hiring local, on-the-ground staff members and launching the Smile Train Virtual Surgery Simulator in 2013. The Virtual Surgery Simulator is a 3D, web-based, interactive tool that provides users with essential information and training on cleft anatomy and cleft surgical repair techniques. A game-changer in surgical education and training.

This new technology is a game-changer in surgical education and training, and has helped to expand Smile Train’s reach within Brazil from three states to nineteen states - enhancing health care capacity and treating cleft patients everywhere from large cities to distant villages in the Amazon region.

An example of how this new technology and increased training across Brazil has helped real life patients is Smile Train patient Victoria. Victoria was born with a cleft palate and placed on a waiting list by Brazil’s national healthcare service, preventing her from obtaining cleft repair surgery as a baby. As Victoria grew up, she had trouble eating, breathing, hearing and speaking, and the age of five, after months of ridicule, she stopped attending school because of her condition. Fortunately, Victoria’s mother, Veronilee, was made aware of Smile Train and travelled to a Smile Train partner hospital in Brazil where Victoria was able to receive free treatment. If Smile Train had not expanded its training and patient reach, Victoria may still be on a waiting list and living with a cleft palate.

Victoria’s mother, Veronilee, says: “The treatment provided by Smile Train has turned Victoria into a happy and healthy child. Now she can be like every other kid her age and she has a bright and promising future.

Smile Train CEO, Susannah Schaefer, says: “Since its launch in 2013, the Simulator has become a key to our ’teach a man to fish’ training model, which empowers and trains local doctors to perform cleft surgery in their own communities. Our sustainable training approach is the mantra for our success, allowing us to leverage the support from our hundreds of thousands of donors to assist children suffering from clefts worldwide.“

For more information about the Smile Train Virtual Surgery Simulator, please visit

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