Click photo to enlarge
Walkers and runners take off in the Operation Smile 5k walk/run on Sunday, April 28, 2013, at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, Calif. Operation Smile is a nonprofit organization that provides free surgeries for children suffering from cleft lips or palates. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

SAN RAMON -- As part of "Team Cash," 14-month-old Cash Bowers flashed a smile Sunday as he stood with his family near the finish line of Operation Smile's 5-kilometer run.

You wouldn't know from looking at his big grin, but the Manteca boy was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, which affects scores of children in the United States and many more globally each year.

After two operations and possibly three more to go, he was all smiles as he bounced on his father's shoulders.

"We were a healthy couple," said Kristen Bowers, Cash's mother. "It was by surprise."

But, "he's really happy -- smiles at everything," father Kirk Bowers said.

The Bowerses were among 500 people who participated in the run at Dougherty Valley High School to benefit Operation Smile, a nonprofit organization that provides free surgeries for children suffering from cleft lip or cleft palate.

Every three minutes, organizers of the event said, a child is born with the deformity, and one in 10 of those children do not survive because of malnutrition.

And while the operation takes 45 minutes and costs about $240, still many children do not have access to medical care, or choose not to because the deformity is seen as a curse on their family, said Robyn Mircoff of Operation Smile. In one state in India, she said, there are 35,000 children with cleft lip or cleft palate.


Advertisement

"To know we can change their life in 45 minutes, it's just incredible," said Mircoff.

Operation Smile has locations worldwide, bringing medical professionals to Asia, Africa and South America on "missions" to perform operations and educate communities.

In the East Bay, the organization is growing in numbers and significance. A group of mothers formed a Northern California chapter, which hosted the run Sunday and has raised $84,000 in its first 10 months -- enough to pay for 350 surgeries, said founder Shab Farzaneh of Alamo.

Farzaneh, who joined the cause while pregnant with her second child, hopes her organization can educate local children and inspire them to give back.

That's also what Salam Hasan of Livermore had in mind. Hasan crossed the finish line pushing a stroller and ran along with her two sons and their friend.

"I thought it would be a really good message for the kids," Hasan said.

Of the 500 runners and walkers, Ivon Alarcon and Nilson Carson tied for first place in the men's division; Shannon Warburg won the women's division; Brennan Dury, 11, won in the boys 12 and under division; and Honor Warburg, 8, won in the girls 12 and under division.

For more information about the Northern California chapter's work and upcoming events, visit operationsmile.org/smileca or email childrensmileCA@gmail.com.

Contact David DeBolt at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.