Two Decades of Making Smiles

Non-profit's chief medical officer calls Cedars-Sinai home

Randy Sherman, M.D., spends most of his time at Cedars-Sinai doing reconstructive surgery on adult cancer and trauma patients. When he's in Vietnam, Ghana and Nicaragua, he's giving children with cleft lips and palates the ability to smile.

"I had always wanted to do something like this. Then, an opportunity arose about 22 years ago to join a mission in Accra, Ghana," said Dr. Sherman, vice chair for Cedars-Sinai's Department of Surgery.

Since he began volunteering with Operation Smile, Dr. Sherman estimates he's gone on roughly 50 missions. The surgical charity cares for children around the world who suffer with cleft lips and palates, burns and other congenital and acquired deformities. He's performed surgeries in India, Cambodia, Kenya, Jordan, Siberia, Vietnam and throughout Central and South America. His most recent trip was to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, this past July.

Just over two years ago, Dr. Sherman took on the role of chief medical officer for the charity, overseeing care delivery and educational programs. "Unfortunately I can't spend more than a few days at any one venue anymore, rather concentrating predominantly on new locations and future mission sites."

His next trip will likely be to Guwahati in the Indian state of Assam where Operation Smile is in the advanced planning stages of providing ongoing charitable surgeries in the province, nestled between Bhutan and Bangladesh just south of the Himalayan foothills. There are an estimated 30,000 children with unrepaired cleft lips in Assam alone, Dr. Sherman noted.

Dr. Sherman would like to get his fellow physicians at Cedars-Sinai involved with Operation Smile, but understands that many of those interested in doing charity work are already volunteering with other groups.

The team for each mission includes 30 to 35 plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses, dentists and speech therapists. Each trip comprises just over a week with operations being performed for five of the days. The number of children treated depends on how many surgical tables are available. One fully staffed table can accommodate 30 children over a week, Dr. Sherman said. He added that 100 to 200 children are treated on each mission.

"There are always many more kids in need than what we can provide for," he said. "We screen approximately three times as many children as we can treat. Many of them will come in having been operated on who need revisional surgery or they may have an underlying condition that prevents them from having surgery. There are also many kids who present with significant problems that don't fall under our areas of expertise. Of primary importance for each child is the safest possible surgery with the best possible outcome."

Operation Smile also provides ongoing training for local healthcare workers including scholarships for training in academic medical centers in the United States as well as on-site Pediatric Advanced Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification. Additionally, research to determine possible genetic reasons for cleft lip and palate plays an important role in the charity's activities.

If you're interested in volunteering with Operation Smile, visit or contact Dr. Sherman at

Dr. Randy Sherman (standing in the rear) chats with Cindy Hensley McCain (in baseball cap) while another physician examines a patient during an Operation Smile mission in Nha Trang, Vietnam.