1985: The Thousand Smiles Foundation was first conceived by a group of Rotarians from the Rotary Club of National City (California). The original name was “Operation Smile.” But, after learning that this name was already taken, the name was changed to “Thousand Smiles Foundation.”
The Rotary Club of National City did not have a major project at the time and the members became interested in raising funds for an existing cleft palate surgery project. Terry Tanaka, DDS (Rotary Club of Chula Vista) had brought the program to their attention. The existing project was operating field surgical clinics in several locations in Mexico: Mexicali, Guaymas and La Paz. Dr. Tanaka had been involved with this project since 1979.
1986: National City Rotary originally sought to raise a few thousand dollars to be used for equipment and supplies for those clinics. George Carter Jessop, Governor of Rotary District 534 (San Diego and Imperial Counties), took a special interest in the project and suggested to National City’s President Tony McCune, that they treat the project as a District project to gain more visibility. This was accomplished simultaneous to the Foundation’s incorporation.
The original Board of Directors for Thousand Smiles Foundation included Rotarians from San Diego’s South Bay area. Now, the Board consists of Rotarians from several areas of District 5340, with a strong participation from National City and Chula Vista. Several of the members of the Board are medical professionals who take an active role in the Dental and Surgical Clinics. There are also Advisors to the Board who are very active.
At the beginning of Rotary District 5340’s involvement in Thousand Smiles, a team of Rotarians from National City attended a clinic in Mexicali, Baja California in order to give a first hand account to their club. From that day several Rotarians became involved as actual volunteers, working as translators for the doctors and coordinators between sectors of the clinics. They transported equipment and performed all sorts of duties. During several of these clinics they became aware of patients with problems of a more serious nature. They had conditions that could not be corrected in a field surgical clinic.
One child with such a problem had already had surgery. His name was Pedro Colio. Pedro suffered from a condition know as hemi-cranial facial microsomia. This is a condition in which the lower half of one side of the face is underdeveloped and does not grow normally. Dr. Jeffrey Moses, DDS was one of the oral-maxillofacial surgeons at the clinic. He had arranged for hospitalization and operating room volunteers for Pedro at TriCity Hospital in San Diego’s North County. Pedro’s surgery was performed in 1985. After surgery he was for several years in an ongoing program of orthodontics with Dr. Soona Jahina, DDS (another member of the Thousand Smiles team). Pedro is now fully recovered and is leading a normal life.
But, there were more children with similar problems. Patricia Noriega was 11 years old and Leopoldo Ascencio was 17. These children needed similar, complicated surgical procedures. A special effort had to be made. Ricky Escandón and Bob Chalfa made a special plea at a District 534 Rotary County Council meeting and about $4 thousand in pledges came forward.
A few weeks later Lonnie Yerk (Rotary Club of Nation City) became aware of the efforts. Then, Tetsuji Tamashiro, DDS contacted Dr. Tanaka and Dr. Moses regarding another girl, Lorena Soto who was 14 years old and had a similar maxillofacial condition. Paradise Valley Hospital agreed to provide surgery to Lorena and Patricia at no charge. The operations were successful. Surgeons involved included Dr. Moses, Dr. Tamashiro and Dr. Don Wickum from Calgary, Alberta. The little girls had the benefit of surgical care that could otherwise have cost upwards of some $30,000.00 each. The $4,000 in pledged funds were used to buy special surgical instruments used in the procedures.
1992: Leopoldo Ascencio had his surgery at no charge compliments of the UCLA Medical Center and Dr. Earl Freymiller, MD, DMD.
1994: Lorena Soto was married and later gave birth to a baby girl. Many Rotarians involved in the project feel this might not have happened without Thousand Smiles. The happiness and normality in these children’s lives are a symbol of the long reaching effects of Thousand Smiles.
1988: The Rotary Club Ensenada Centenaria made a formal request to Thousand Smiles. They ask to participate to form a complete field surgical clinic at the Red Cross Hospital in Ensenada, Baja California. Until that time, the Board had not considered a broader involvement other than donating supplies and equipment. The clinics had about 100 volunteers, three general surgery rooms and 3 dental chairs.
1990-1991: Dr. Tanaka, one of the prime movers of this charitable project was awarded the Presidential Award of Honor for an Exemplary Rotarian for the United States, Canada and Bermuda. This is one of 6 awards that were given at that time worldwide each year by the President of Rotary International.
1992: Thousand Smiles expanded its work into Central America. At the invitation of the Rotary Club Rohrmoser in San Jose, Costa Rica and Gloria Bejarano de Calderon (then, the first lady of Costa Rica) the first annual Costa Rica Clinic became a reality. This clinic occurred each year from 1992 until approximately 2005 when Dr. Moses separated from the Foundation.
1995: Thousand Smiles expanded the Ensenada Project to 4 clinics each year. Ensenada now has clinics the first weekend in February, May, August and November.
1998: A surgical clinic was organized by Thousand Smiles and Rotarians from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The surgical team made one trip a year to Juarez and was able to perform 2-3 surgical procedures there. This clinic was taken over by local Rotarians and medical professionals a few years later.
1999: The Red Cross Hospital was no longer made available for our clinics. The foundation rented a warehouse to work in for a couple of years. A building was then purchased in Ensenada and renovated to provide a permanent location for the Dental Clinics. Utilization of the Ensenada General Hospital was arranged for the much-needed surgeries.
2002: In February we moved the dental facilities into the renovated permanent building next to the park on Avenida Mexico in Ensenada. Our clinic has four surgical screening stations, photo archives, offices for the ENT doctor, the speech therapists, the audiologists, and x-ray dept., and our computer area all on the first floor, with a complete eight chair orthodontic/dental clinic on the second floor. Surgeries are performed at the Ensenada General Hospital by visiting volunteer groups of surgeons, residents, nurses, and medical technicians. We are grateful to continue to enjoy support in grants and manpower by many Rotary clubs from Districts 5340, and 4100; as well as a growing group of clubs outside these two districts.
2005: NorCal, a group of volunteers who had worked within the TS program for several years expressed a desire to hold 2 more dental-only clinics per year using the TS dental clinic facility. An agreement was reached for NorCal to hold weekend clinics for the first weekend of October and the first weekend of April. These clinics have been very successful and the partnership continues.
2006: The General Hospital of Ensenada built a new state of the art addition, which includes four fully equipped operating rooms. Thousand Smiles has a strategic partnership with the hospital that grows stronger every year. While the hospital’s new facility is equipped with all new equipment utilizing the latest technology there are still some needs that have not yet been addressed. Thousand Smiles has and will continue to try to fill any of those needs that are within our capability.
2007: Thousand Smiles had 4 successful clinics and the NorCal group had 2. The clinic was remodeled making more room for patient check in, triage and a new larger room for ENT was built and equipped. The surgery stockroom was moved to a new larger facility next door.
2008: Three Thousand Smiles clinics were held in February, May and August. Due to security concerns a bus was contracted to pick up volunteers in Chula Vista and transport them to the clinic and back. This service started in August. Some of the volunteers, still worried about security caused the Board of Directors to vote on a motion to cancel the November clinic. The motion was carried by one vote and the clinic was cancelled. In December the Board, not wanting to have any more lapses in service, voted to have the February, 2009 clinic with whatever volunteers decided to show up. NorCal had two successful dental-only clinics.
2009: The February was held with about 60% of the normal amount of volunteers. Everyone involved was pleasantly surprised that a normal amount of dental and surgery patients were attended to. The clinic was a big success. Two busses were contracted to bring volunteers down and return them to the United States. In addition, many people drove their own vehicles. There were no security incidents (and there have never been any at our clinics).