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Nurse helps children smile worldwide


Donna Crowe has been on 30 missions around the world to volunteer for Operation Smile, an organization that treats children with facial deformities who do not have access to surgical care.

Donna Crowe has seen many severe cleft lips, cleft palates and other deformities on children’s faces around the world. With their parents, they come in their very best clothes, sometimes wearing tiaras, to see the doctors and nurses at Operation Smile for help.

“Their parents’ smiles, when they realize we can help their child – it’s heart-wrenching,” said Crowe, an RN at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

With Operation Smile, Crowe has been on 30 missions to China, Egypt, Kenya, Jordan, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, India and Ethiopia since 2001. She works in pre- and post-op rooms, caring for the children as well as their families after surgery.

“I have been to most of these countries twice, and India six times,” said Crowe. “I go wherever they ask me to go, if I can get the time off.”

Operation Smile is an international medical charity that has so far provided more than 220,000 free surgical procedures to children and young adults born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. Many cannot even eat properly, so the surgeries improve their health and their lives.

JE Oct 28 Donna Crowe #2

Donna Crowe volunteers to help children around the world receive surgeries that they would never have access to otherwise. She purchases gifts for the local staff, patients and their families.

Operation Smile is driven by a global network of medical professionals like Crowe who donate hundreds of thousands of hours towards caring for children around the world each year. Crowe volunteers to make a difference in their lives.

“I love kids,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to work with children but my path did not work out that way. So I found this.”

JE Oct 28 Donna Crowe #3

Donna Crowe (third from the left) loves children and travelling, with her volunteer missions allowing her to meet people from all walks of life.

Crowe’s perspective on our health-care system has been affected by her vast experiences away from Canada.

“In some hospitals, finding a clean bathroom with running water on your floor is heaven,” she explained. “Operation Smile goes out and buys food for some of the patients. We are so lucky in comparison – these children would not have these surgeries if Operation Smile did not provide them. We have nothing to complain about our health-care system. At least we have one.”

The dedication and time volunteers contribute to the project is immeasurable. Crowe pays for each mission, which costs between $700 and $1,000, and uses her vacation time to volunteer whenever possible.

“I love to travel and this is great,” she said. “The people who you meet have so much to offer you.”

Crowe’s international work has made her appreciate the work done at The Ottawa Hospital.

“You go to work at these hospitals with limited supplies, sometimes limited clean bathrooms and running water with fewer beds than we have,” she said. “You appreciate what you have at home. We all have health care – they do not.”


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