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2015 CHARITY: Smiles International medical personnel come to aid of Cabo children

Project Smiles of Cabo is the designated charity for the 2015 Cabo Tuna Jackpot; all funds will be go to purchase equipment needed onsite annually for the two one-week surgical clinics by volunteer U.S. doctors and nurses

WON Staff Writer


There are several ways to donate at the Cabo Tuna Jackpot to the Smiles International effort. In fact, the efforts will mirror what was done in 2014 for the rebuilding of homes after the hurricane. There will be clothing offered by Minerva's at check-in and all proceeds will go to the fund, as well as all Grand Raffle ticket sales at $5 ticket (or 5 for $20).

There will be a Silent Auction at the awards dinner to the left of the stage like last year, Costa and Grays and Yo-Zuri are always dreaming up fun contests and a live auction items, and there is the Costa Charity Charter on the official start boat Cabo Escape. The minimum donation is $20 on Friday. It's catered by Tony's, it's fun and a great way to send off the teams.

Representatives of Smiles International may have a booth at Check-In if you need more information. Note: Unlike some years, none of the children in need of the funds will be at the event.

Two times a year on the fourth Mondays of every April and October Smiles International Foundation volunteer doctors and nurses fly to Cabo San Lucas. It's not to party and fish. Far from it. They get to work. They first hold screenings at the second floor of the Puerto Paraiso Mall to determine which children are in need of the crucial services. These screenings are followed by a grueling schedule for the next week, operating on children to repair facial deformities in young children on the poverty level.

At the epicenter of these annual efforts, and many others in parts of Mexico and other countries, is Dr. Jeffrey Moses and his wife Maribel of Encinitas, CA who met back in 1987 when Dr. Moses was performing surgeries in Costa Rica. Maribel, a Costa Rican, was working in one of the clinics, providing counseling to the children, which she continues at the clinics. It was around that time that Dr. Moses was seriously injured in a car accident, and soon after retired.

"I was laying there in the van after the brakes failed in a van coming down a road from a trip to see a volcano after we were done operating, and as I laid there I thought, 'I can keep doing four or five surgeries a day if I keep working, or I can retire and devote myself to getting five doctors to do five times as many surgeries a day as I could.'"

Project Smiles of Cabo is among the cities that Smiles International focuses on. There are clinics set up in northern Baja, and one in mainland Mexico and other, Costa Rica, and one in the Ukraine is in the planning stages. It's hard to image Cabo, with all its fancy hotels and restaurants is stricken with poverty, but it is there and very real. For children affected with a cleft palate or some other facial deformity, poverty is almost a certain future. The screening process just the first step toward a new life.

"After the screenings," said Moses, "We then operate a few cases that very afternoon and then throughout the week daily from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the Hospital Especialidades owned by Rotarian, Dr. Alejandro Avalos who donates the use during our visit. We operate approximately 25-30 children during the week with facial reconstructions performed under pediatric specialty general anesthesia."

Dr. Moses said that last year, the relative value of surgical procedures combined with cost for facility, anesthesiology, intensive care nursing and supplies totaled over $380,000 if done in the USA and this was accomplished with around $7,000 worth of sterile supplies actually purchased by the Foundation due to so many "in-kind" donated efforts.

The entire program is volunteer, administered by Dr, Moses and his wife. All administrative costs, if any, come out of his own pocket.

"All of our team pays their own expenses for travel and takes time off of work or uses vacation day to perform these donation surgeries," said Moses. "In Cabo we are hosted by the Rotary Club of Los Cabos and the Smiles Advisory Panel members for team meals during the clinic and supported by them for transportation needs. Our hotels in Cabo have been gifted and graciously supported by the Solmar Foundation graciously." So what will donated funds go to?

First, there are sterile surgical supplies for each clinic that cost approximately $7,500. "We have been having a little bit of difficulty finding the annual funds for $15,000 annually for this and thus we struggle each year for these purchases even though we obtain them at a tremendous discount through our nursing staff's connection at San Diego hospitals, purchasing our small orders along with their large volume orders."

Additionally, currently the team brings portable surgical instrumentation from the U.S. with them by plane and as expected, is subject to the whim of the customs agents at the airport who charge them customs importation fees even though they are only using their own instrumentation during the week for charitable purpose. "This increases the expense for the volunteers and Foundation that is totally unnecessary," said Moses. "The desired solution for this would be to gradually fund the purchase of instrumentation that would be kept on site here in a secure warehouse for use during the clinics and even loaned out to our local doctors who we have included on our team to provide the children's care year long."

DR. JEFFREY MOSES and his wife Maribel with a Cabocleft child.

Donated money grows through matching funds.

"I've already obtained matching commitments from the U.S.-based instrument manufacturing company KLS Martin who will give us a 50 percent discount on any instrumentation purchased for this clinic making our needs over the next year or so to provide the necessary Cleft Lip and Palate sets along with Bone grafting and reconstructive kits to approximately $50,000." Moses said a grant funding of this amount would provide a set that would be kept in use on-site and always here avoiding the unnecessary customs problems."

Smiles International work is not done in just one surgical effort. Not even close.

"Many people in the public don't realize the children afflicted with facial cleft deformities are not fixed with more than just closure of the lip and actually require up to seven surgeries in order to restore them to full function in order to be able to eat, speak, hear and smile," said Moses. The cleft lip is repaired around 10 weeks of age and the palate repaired at around age one. Then the ears are evaluated for the ability to clear the ears (popping pressure) and if needed, Ear Tubes are placed to prevent permanent deafness. The bone in the upper jaw is grafted from the hip at around age 6 in order to allow teeth to erupt properly, and the nose is corrected to allow breathing properly. Braces are placed to prepare the bite for Facial Bone alignment surgery in the early teens and this surgery is performed mid-teens to allow the facial form and the chewing function to become fully functional."

Moses said the goal is to make all of these stages possible for each child in addition to giving them speech therapy, psychological counseling on self-esteem, and a general head start back into health.

"The cleft face is not indicative of any intellectual deficiency; it is just an error in the formation of the face in the embryo. One in 650 live births in all of the Americas have this including the U.S., and the only reason we do not see more on the streets is the effectiveness of our methodology of care in developed nations. These children deserve this chance."

Working with local doctors is critical for follow-up care for cases throughout the year. The goal, said Moses, to give the region's specialty doctors the ability to provide care all year long.

"Then we will only be needed to update the techniques, provide better equipment, and share ambassadorial surgical relationships together with them working on difficulty cases."

The goal is simple. Give the kids a chance.

"You can see tremendous happiness in their faces and those of their families as well as a general appearance of developing confidence," said Moses.




Parents "First Look After"

One year After

Dr. Moses, when he heard the Tuna Jackpot fundraising effort would be directed to Smiles International and Project Smiles Cabo, said, "I hope that your group will look at this project as one they can really own into, and with their support, hundreds of thousands of leveraged dollars of care will be given for a fraction of the cost and thousands of children over the years will grow and benefit from their help."

For a look into the Foundation, Guidestar is a watchdog for such nonprofits. Their assessment can be seen online. For more information on the foundation and where it also conducts clinics, go to