A Newport Beach plastic surgeon will give some South American children something to smile about starting Tuesday.
Dr. Mark A. Anton, along with Operation Smile, will be in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for two weeks to perform free facial surgeries on young patients in need there.
Since 1982, the Norfolk, Va.-based Operation Smile has performed more than 200,000 free surgical procedures on children and young adults born with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities.
Anton has been involved with the nonprofit since 1989, when he served a facial fellowship in Norfolk. There, he met the program's founder, Dr. William "Bill" Magee. Shortly after, Anton started his own private practice in Newport Beach.
"Surgery is like going in your garage and being creative and fixing things," he said.
Anton has also served Operation Smile missions in Liberia and Kenya.
He said one of his most memorable missions was to Hinche, Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake. He said mobile surgical teams helped trauma victims with surgeries in various parts of their bodies.
"Being involved with teams, you realize, looking back on your youth, those were fun times when you were with a group of people with similar desires," Anton said. "And everyone is applying those toward people."
Anton said that Operation Smile is the "creation of smiles from a deformity."
"It's an honor and a pleasure to be immersed into the local society and the people," he said. "What I really take home from it is however poor someone is, they're very happy from the experience and learn what makes life precious."
Anton frequently encourages his patients and anyone he meets to donate to Operation Smile, which is raising money for a global headquarters building in Norfolk.
"Every dollar is efficiently used and not wasted," he said.
Anton said he is excited for this mission to Bolivia.
"I know that when I leave, my view on life and people gets rejuvenated and refreshed," he said. "My belief in life and people is reaffirmed."