Dr. Billy Magee, left, stands beside his 14-year-old son, Liam, during a 2022 surgical program in Bushenge, Rwanda. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Nearly four decades after Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee’s first Operation Smile surgical programme in the Philippines in 1982, the founding principles of love and leadership not only remain major pillars of the organisation’s mission, but also a guiding philosophy that has been passed down through generations.
For Dr. Billy Magee, the eldest son of Kathy and Bill, visiting developing countries over summer breaks and hosting Operation Smile patients at his family’s home were common experiences for him and his siblings growing up, and had a lasting effect.
After his initial trip to the Philippines as a teenager, he told his father that he was determined to get a medical degree, a dental degree, go into general surgery residency, and then on to plastic surgical residency and fellowship. Billy is now chief of research and innovation at Operation Smile. And he has continued the family tradition by taking his own son, Liam, to a programme in Rwanda as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Liam Magee, centre, watches as his father, Billy, demonstrates a surgical technique to plastic surgery resident Dr. Yves Nezerwa of Rwanda, right. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
At 14 years old, Liam excels academically and enjoys playing sports. His enthusiasm about going to Rwanda is proof that the desire to help others is a tightly held family value.
Prior to their trip, Billy educated Liam on the history of Rwanda so he was prepared to witness families living in dire need, and able to understand how Rwanda can benefit from non-profit organisations such as Operation Smile.
At the programme site, Liam watched his father change lives through performing cleft surgeries on patients, educating surgical residents during training sessions and sharing special moments by playing soccer with students at a nearby school.
During his time in Rwanda, Liam noticed that many patients lacked transport and had to walk long distances to get back home. He suggested providing them with bags of essential items, including ponchos to protect them during rainy Rwandan afternoons.
“Love and leadership start with daily acts of kindness,” Billy said. “And it’s important for me to see my child display kindness towards others. I encourage it.”
When they returned home to California, Liam began working on his goodie bag project. He couldn’t wait to share his experience with his friends, who were eager to learn more about his project and recent travels to Africa.
Value of interacting with people living in low-income countries
The value of interacting with people living in low- and middle-income countries at such a young age has expanded exponentially among the Magee children and grandchildren.
After returning from her first trip to the Philippines, Brigette Magee started an Operation Smile student club at her high school. Today, Brigette is still heavily involved with Student Programs as the organisation’s director of student strategic initiative.
“As a father, reflecting back about the things that really impacted our kids, it was the gift that Kathy and I were able to give them as parents,” explains Bill. “Getting them involved with Operation Smile.
“We’ve watched how these trips have affected every one of our kids — there’s been no doubt about it with every single one of them, Operation Smile has changed their lives.”