In the Field

New Smiles in Argentina

Co-founders Harry and Kay visit 2007 Health Award Honoree Dr. Ricardo Bennun, who is helping children with cleft lips smile for the first time.

Last week, the World of Children’s co-founders, Harry Leibowitz and Kay Isaacson-Leibowitz, traveled to Argentina to visit 2007 Health Award Honoree Dr. Ricardo Bennun of Asociación PIEL, a healthcare facility for children in a poor district outside of Buenos Aires. There, they saw firsthand how Dr. Bennun has used World of Children funding to dramatically improve the lives of vulnerable children.

Cleft lip patient

In Argentina, one in every 500 children is born with a vascular tumor, and one in every 700 is born with a cleft lip or palate. Without corrective surgery, these children have trouble eating, sleeping and speaking. Many of them are tragically ostracized from their communities.

Nearly 80% come from poor neighborhoods where malnutrition and polluted drinking water are common, and contribute to the likelihood of birth defects. Most parents cannot afford treatment, and their only other option is to put their child’s name on an endlessly long waiting list at their local hospital. Children often wait as long as two years before receiving surgery.

Harry Leibowitz and cleft lip patient

Dr. Bennun is changing that system. Since founding Asociación PIEL in 1995, Dr. Bennun — along with a team of doctors, dentists, psychologists and speech therapists — has provided free treatment and surgery for children with devastating birth defects, tumors and other facial deformities. Patients range in age from newborn to 15 years old. Dr. Bennun was honored for this life-changing work in 2007 at the World of Children Annual Awards Ceremony and awarded $10,000 in grant funding.

Since winning the World of Children Health Award, Dr. Bennun has performed nearly 1,500 maxillofacial surgeries and hundreds of other surgeries to treat physical deformities. Recognition at the World of Childrens Ceremony helped Dr. Bennun make the necessary connections to establish the first ever maxillofacial surgery residency program at the medical school in Buenos Aires. He also became a partner for Smile Train and is now leading the expansions of their programming throughout South America.

Dr. Bennun performing cleft lip surgery

During their visit, Harry and Kay spent the day at Asociación PIEL, where they met 15 children and families whose lives are now changed, thanks to Dr. Bennun and his medical team.

“The before and after pictures are totally unbelievable,” Kay said.

The day before they arrived, a young patient named Sophia underwent surgery for her cleft lip. By the time Harry and Kay met her, she was happily recovering, her parents crying from the joy of seeing their daughter’s new smile. Another young patient — a newborn with a cleft lip — was waiting to receive surgery from Dr. Bennun. Both of these children now have the chance to have a normal childhood, unmarked by a facial deformity.

Young patient after surgery with her mother

“Parents knew that their kids had a new life because of surgery,” Kay said. “They would look with tears in their eyes and say, ‘my child’s life has been saved.'”

Every day, children like these and their families walk through the doors of Asociación PIEL worried that their child might never be able to lead a normal life. But thanks to Dr. Bennun and the rest of the dedicated medical team, they leave knowing that their child is ensured a brighter future.

  • Impact Delivered to Your Inbox

    Sign up to receive stories and updates from around the world.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.