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Changing the face of the world

Some children ask for a new games. Some ask for a puppy. When you ask 11-year-old Robbie Lindsey what he wants, his answer is simple. He wants to “change the face of the world, one smile at a time.”

Robbie was born in Colorado with a type of congenital deformity caused by abnormal facial development during gestation. He had a cleft lip and palate. A cleft lip is formed in the top of the lip as a small gap in the lip and continues into the nose. A cleft palate is a condition where the two plates of the skull that form the roof of the mouth are not completely joined.

Richard and Susie Lindsey of Park Hills flew to Colorado to adopt Robbie. Within two weeks, Robbie had to have his first of many surgeries.

“He couldn’t even eat. He had lost two pounds before the surgery,” Robbie’s mom said.

She had to buy him Haberman nipples, at $100 each, just to ensure Robbie had the proper nutrition.

Due to the lack of suction, an infant with a cleft may have trouble nursing.

The Haberman system allows the milk to flow slowly and evenly and prevents the baby from swallowing air.

Robbie’s first surgery was when he was 2 weeks old. He had a second at 6 months.

“They told me to wean him from the bottle,” Susie said. At only 6 months old, this was a difficult task. Once the surgery was over, she resumed bottle feeding with the Haberman nipples.

“Robbie continues to defy all the odds,” his mom explained. “After each surgery, the doctors tell us that he won’t want to eat for several days. He comes out and within a few hours he is ready to eat a popsicle.”

He had another surgery right before he started kindergarten. This surgery corrected almost everything.

Then almost a year ago, Robbie was at recess at school. He went down the slide first, then a child came behind him and pushed Robbie off the slide. This caused Robbie’s surgeries to fail. His mouth, cheeks and face swelled and filled with blood.

“By the time we arrived in St. Louis at the hospital, you couldn’t even recognize him,” Susie said.

It took several days for the swelling to go down enough to repair the damage done on the playground. The hospital at St. John’s carefully took some of Robbie’s hip bone and placed it in his mouth to replace where his tooth was.

The Lindseys return to the city every three to six months to work with a speech pathologist. Other than Robbie’s speech, his struggles and surgeries are over for the most part. He may have to have one more cosmetic surgery in the future, but otherwise, he is a healthy, happy boy, according to his parents.

A few weeks ago, Robbie was watching T.V. He saw a child with a cleft lip and palate.

“He asked if that is what he used to look like,” Susie said. “We told him yes if he hadn’t been fortunate enough to have his surgeries.”

That is when the Lindseys learned about Operation Smile.

Operation Smile

Operation Smile is a worldwide children’s medical charity that is dedicated to helping improve the lives of children born with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities. Operation Smile was founded by Dr. William P. Magee Jr., a plastic surgeon, and his wife, Kathleen, a nurse and clinical social worker. In 1982, the Magees traveled to the Philippines with a group of medical volunteers to repair children’s cleft lips and cleft palates.

They discovered hundreds of children ravaged by deformities, and although they helped many children, the volunteers were forced to turn away the majority of those who sought help. The Magees saw the need and Operation Smile was born.

Since 1982, more than 120,000 children have been treated by thousands of volunteers in Central and South America, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia and thousands of healthcare professionals have been trained globally.

For only $240 a child can have the surgery they need. That amount can change a child’s life completely.

Robbie’s fundraisers

Robbie asked all of his friends at school, at Sunday school and his 4-H Club to help. His teacher, Mrs. Hutchings, at West Central Elementary, is planning a fundraiser.

Robbie’s church, Cantwell Baptist, has agreed to match the funds Robbie raises. Other local churches have agreed to donate as well.

“We have several things planned,” Richard said. “Candy bars, candles.”

“We’re going to go to Wal-Mart one day and ask” Susie said.

In the few short weeks since Robbie learned of Operation Smile, he has already raised almost enough for one surgery.

“He is very determined to do this,” his parents said. “He hasn’t stopped talking about it,” Susie said.

“We are very proud,” Richard said.

To learn more about Operation Smile, visit or to donate to Robbie’s cause, call him at 573-431-0377.

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