A TOTAL of 228 patients in Davao City are set to undergo free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries under Operation Smile that kicked off Monday until June 19 as part of the Operation Smile Philippines' medical mission.

Dubbed as "Gift of Smiles", this multi-site medical mission in the country is slated in Davao to reach and treat cleft lip and cleft palate in Mindanao.

Regan Ferrell, international program coordinator of Operation Smile said in an interview at Brokenshire Hospital's operating room that she is satisfied with the positive outcome during the first day of the medical mission.

"Operations are ongoing. We will reach our target number of 40 to 50 operations for the day," she said.

The organization recorded a total of 402 patients who screened for the operation smile.

However, the coordinator said as much as they want to operate on all of the patients they are limited by staffing, space, and pharmaceutical restrictions.

"We really want to operate all who came for the screening but with that huge number we can only handle 228 out of 402 patients at this time since our staff, space and pharmaceutical capacity are limited with the average operation capacity per day of 40 to 50 patients only," she said.

But she explained that the remaining 174 patients have already been advised to visit the hospital’s Cleft Center for Mindanao where free surgeries are conducted every week.

"Since we cannot accommodate all the patients within one week we suggested them to come back and also we are planning to have an additional mini-mission after this. Aside from that we also plan to forge partnership with US Navy and USNS Mercy which will help us bring the patients in Luzon where our other medical sites are located," she added.

Liza Jorolan, mother of a two-year-old cleft palate patient based in Cotabato City, found the program a life-changing experience.

"When we heard about Operation Smile, we were very excited. It was good news for me and my son. I am very much thankful because my son will finally be operated on for free. This will truly change my son's life," she said in the vernacular.

Another mother of a patient, Remicar Panes, thanked the organization for initiating the medical mission.

"As a mother, I'm happier than anyone knowing that my child will be operated on. We were having difficulty in feeding him and we feared that he would be bullied. But with the operation, we are happy," Panes said in the dialect.

The Operation Smile Philippines' Gift of Smiles program is being conducted simultaneously in Davao, Cebu, Pampanga, Manila and Bacolod.

The multi-site medical mission recorded 974 patients up for operation nationwide.

A total of 20,000 cleft patients were already operated since the medical mission was launched in Mindanao in 1994.

Around 80 volunteers composed of surgeons, dentist, nurses, medical records staff and others participated in the medical mission in Davao.

"Cleft patients are going to be treated differently in the society, we believe through this mission we can change and help these patients learn to smile and live a better quality of life and we are looking forward for the Philippines to be one of the countries wherein cleft cases will be eradicated through operation smile program," Ferrell said.