Nursing Alumna Brings Joy to Children Through Operation Smile

by Diane VanDyke

Lauren Bissett with one of her young patients in India.

Montgomery County Community College nursing alumna Lauren Bissett helped to brighten the lives of children and their families when she volunteered with an Operation Smile mission in Guwahati, Assam, India last summer.

Lauren, who graduated with an Associate in Applied Science degree in Nursing in 2008, volunteered for the opportunity when a friend told her about the Operation Smiles program.

Founded in 1982 by plastic surgeon Dr. William P. Magee Jr. and his wife Kathleen S. Magee, a registered nurse, the non-profit international organization with the assistance of dedicated medical volunteers provides free reconstructive surgery for children born with facial deformities, particularly cleft lips and palates, in more than 50 countries.

According to Operation Smile’s website, more than 200,000 children are born each year with some type of cleft condition. These children face problems with eating, speaking, socializing and sometimes breathing. Because of the negative social stigma, many hide their faces behind handkerchiefs or scarves or hide themselves in their homes.

The average surgery takes about 45 minutes and costs about $240, and it changes the life of a child. In Guwahati, there are approximately 30,000 people who are still in need of surgery.

During the mission, Lauren initially assisted with screening applicants to ensure that they were healthy and physically able to undergo surgery.

“Needless to say, this was extremely difficult,” Lauren said.  “It was heartbreaking to see the look on their faces, the tears, and to hear their stories when they were turned away. For some of them, it was the second or third time they came for surgery. Many walked for days and endured financial hardships for missing work.”

Initially, the team was scheduled to see 250 people, but since the turnout and needs were so great, the volunteers saw more than 500 people. Funds and services for that particular mission enabled the team to help 170 people. More missions will be scheduled for this region and future plans include training medical persons from India to perform surgeries in a designated hospital.

After the screening process, Lauren assisted in the post-op department ensuring that the patients were healing and understood how to use the items in the care kits they were provided.

“The healing process is fairly short,” she said. “There were translators who were great with interpreting the multiple dialects and explaining the post-op instructions.”

Despite the language barrier, Lauren was able to communicate with her young patients and share in their joy as they realized the beauty of the results and the improvement to their lives.

Overall, the mission was a life-changing experience for Lauren, and it further validated her career choice.

“Nursing is a great career,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to help others. I can’t imagine doing another job. Montgomery County Community College gave me a great foundation and the confidence to go forward and do anything.”

Surprisingly, however, nursing was not Lauren’s initial career choice following her graduation from North Penn High School in 2000. At that time, she chose to attend Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Md., where she earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts and then worked as an artist.

In 2005, her life took a different turn when she was involved in a car accident. The exemplary care she received following the incident inspired her to explore a nursing career for herself, and she decided to enroll in Montgomery County Community College’s nursing program.

Following her graduation in 2008, she worked full-time in the emergency room at Doylestown Hospital. In May 2010 she passed the board examination to be a registered nurse.

Since she enjoys traveling and new experiences, she accepted a travel nursing assignment, and her first position was in a hospital emergency department in Missouri. She plans on attaining her bachelor’s degree in Nursing in the spring of 2011 and will continue working in emergent care settings and participating in more volunteer opportunities.

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