KENNETT SQUARE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- A Chester County woman is improving the lives of children around the world by giving them the gift of a new smile.
Noreen Kessler from Kennett Square has been volunteering with Operation Smile for nearly 30 years. The organization travels the globe to offer free surgeries to children born with cleft lip and cleft palate, a gap in the mouth formed during pregnancy that affects one out of every 200 children.
Kessler keeps a world map in her home with pins of every country where she's gone on a mission. It represents her life's work.
"To see these families that have children born with this condition and feel the despair that they don't think they can do anything for their child, as a parent I can't imagine that," said Kessler.
In the US, the condition of cleft lip and cleft palate is often treated immediately. In developing countries, children are often left waiting for years. That's where Operation Smile comes in.
"It renews my faith in mankind to see this global community that is absolutely incredible, and we can all learn something from it," she said.
The Kennett Square nurse started volunteering with the organization in 1994 after attending a lecture on the condition that changed the course of her career. She became a pediatric nurse to be better suited for missions.
"I've learned compassion and fortitude and patience and tolerance," she said.
She's gone on 60 surgical programs through her career.
"I've had parents that thought it wasn't their child after a repair. They just stare and cry, and I'm like, 'this is your child,'" she said.
Last year, Kessler retired from being a full time nurse. She plans to use this time to go on more missions with Operation Smile, hoping to leave a legacy of service as she trains more nurses around the world.
"As a global community we need hope, and these families hope someone will come and take care of their children," she said.
On each mission, Kessler delivers that hope. Her reward is a simple smile.
"It's like watching a child be reborn," she said.