West Jordan nurse travels the world to help children with cleft palateAug 05, 2022 12:33PM ● By Linda Steele
Kristi Nieswender travels the world to help children born with a cleft palate. She got involved with Operation Smile because she was born with a cleft palate. The first half of her life she was in and out of surgery and dealing with the repercussions of having a cleft palate.
Nieswender is a local registered nurse from West Jordan. For almost two decades she has been volunteering with Operation Smile. This year she participated as a conference nurse at the International Student Leadership Conference held at the University of Miami July 18-24.
Kristi is amazed at the organization’s ability to continually empower its patients, global youth and the local community.
When Kristi initially learned about Operation Smile, she didn’t want to get involved. But she realized with everything she went through and having dealt with the challenges of being a cleft patient herself, she felt she had something to offer.
“I felt I needed to be involved with this organization and give back, to give hope to parents in the community whose children are dealing with cleft, especially third world countries where we are going to help, because they don’t have the infrastructure to perform these surgeries that can change their children’s life,” Nieswender said.
Nieswender goes to third world countries as a developing volunteer. She has been to 18 missions in different countries.
“We go into third world countries to help with surgeries, plant a seed of opportunity for the nurses, doctors and plastic surgeons throughout the course of the mission, about how to perform the surgeries, take care of the patients, so eventually they can be self-sufficient, and the country will be able to provide these surgical opportunities for the children in their own country. We provide education for the country and take care of the children as well.”
Nieswender not only does the volunteer missions, she is a nurse as well. “I am the backwards nurse, because I actually got into Operation Smile in my early twenties when I was in a different career. Lucky for me there were a couple of positions in the mission that were not for medical professionals, and I was able to participate in that method and go on several missions and help these kids. I realized I am so happy when I am doing these missions, then I went into nursing, a second career later in life. I did humanitarian projects that influenced me to become a nurse,” she said.
Nieswender has seen a lot of children that have been helped, and it has been life changing for her and the children. “This is my passion, it’s my life and I love it so much and making a difference and trying to touch the lives of the children as much as they touch mine.”
Operation Smile has been doing the International Student Leadership Conference for 30 years. “This program encourages high school students to help them get involved in service projects, fundraising, and get involved in the community. It is a great developing opportunity for students to see opportunities in the medical field. So many students go through this organization and end up going into speech therapy, dentistry, plastic surgery, pediatric nursing. If the medical field is not what they want to do, they learn great leadership skills,” Nieswender said.
Operation Smile has been operating since 1982. Operation Smile believes in the values of helping with love and compassion for others. They are committed to a lifetime of integrity, trust and leadership. Operation Smile does not want a child or parent to feel alone, they bring families renewed hope through cleft surgery that is safe and the best available.
Go to operationsmile.org for more information. λ