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This story first appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Fifteen years ago, when Jennifer Salke‘s son Henry was born, it was instantly apparent that he had a cleft palate; Cedars-Sinai’s Dr. John Reinisch subsequently fixed the craniofacial malady with two surgeries.
At 8, Henry, wishing to connect with other kids who had similar experiences, created a fundraising page for Operation Smile, a foundation that offers free surgeries (220,000 to date) to repair cleft lips and palates. That caught the attention of founder Dr. William Magee Jr., and since then, Salke and Henry have accompanied the surgeon on missions, even flying to Mexico City in August.
“I watched Bill perform hours of intricate surgery on babies’ faces,” says Salke. “I always relate to a worried mother who … gives her baby to be put under anesthesia for hours. I show parents Henry’s before and after pictures. It washes away so much worry. When they see their children, they are in love because their babies are OK and they’ve done the right thing for them.”
Magee, who maintains a private practice in Norfolk, Va., while serving as co-director of The Institute of Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery in the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, adds: “Jennifer understands the position and has the contacts to change people’s lives worldwide. That’s her uniqueness among her peers.”
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