Winnipeg woman on her 21st mission to help people smile

Operation Smile speech pathologist has helped kids with cleft palates all over the globe

Myers helps a boy with his speech on an Operation Smile trip to Malawi in 2016. (Submitted/Candace Myers)

Candace Myers is heading out for her 21st medical mission to help people smile — something she’s been doing all over the world for over a decade.

“It’s a really incredible experience,” she said.

Myers is a speech language pathologist with CancerCare Manitoba but she takes time off to volunteer with Operation Smile. The organization provides free surgery to kids and adults born with cleft lips or cleft palates.

She’s been doing at least one trip a year, since she started volunteering with the organization about 12 years ago. This time Myers is headed to Ghana.

“I think it’s the least I can do really,” said Myers.

Candace Myers in a speech therapy class in Vietnam in 2017. (Submitted/Candace Myers)

On these medical missions, Myers screens children and adults to help determine their needs for therapy including intervention, education and training. This includes teaching families how to ensure that their children are getting the proper nourishment, as cleft palates can cause babies to struggle while feeding, she said.

She also helps teach parents how to take over the therapy once the speech pathologists are gone.

“Because for many of these kids this will be the only opportunity they will ever have to work with a speech therapist,” said Myers.

Medical missions are extremely busy for all involved. Myers is not involved in the actual surgery, but she screens each patient to help figure out their specific needs.

During one mission, Myers saw more than 400 patients in just four days.

“I always describe the experience as exhausting but exhilarating,” said Myers.

“It’s so incredibly satisfying to be able to help people and the families are so incredibly appreciative and grateful for the help.”

Even though Operation Smile is all about helping children and adults with cleft palates, Myers often sees children who have other speech issues.

Sometimes families learn about speech therapists in the area and want their children to bee seen too, said Myers. She’s worked with deaf children, children with Down syndrome or other medical conditions that might have been overlooked. Myers is able to help educate the family to better understand the needs of their child.

She focuses on kids who aren’t going to school because of their cleft palates, often because they’re being bullied or the teacher can’t understand them.

Most of the time, speech improvement starts almost as soon as speech therapy starts, she said.

“It’s such a basic thing, so many kids, all they want to do is to be able to go to school and do the same thing as their siblings and their friends do,” said Myers.

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