Filmmaker Megan Mylan won an Oscar last month for her short documentary, Smile Pinki, about a girl in India whose cleft lip and palate are fixed by surgery. The Oscar recognized the filmmaker, but more importantly, it helped raise awareness that children born with these deformities easily can be cured.
In Mylan's documentary, hundreds of Indian parents wait patiently with their children outside a small hospital in Uttar Pradesh, one of India's poorest states. The children are scheduled for surgery on cleft lips and palates, common birth defects in developing countries.
Dr. Subodh tells reporters that his team works around the clock to deal with the backlog.
"There are a million children with these defects. And each year in India, 35 thousand children are born with clefts. Most never get any decent treatment," he says.
Many who do get the treatment, says Mylan, are helped by The Smile Train, a New York non-profit. Through donations, the group funds thousands of these surgeries every year.
"They find really talented doctors in developing countries - I think it's like, 74, 75 different countries now - and empower them," she says.
Mylan says training local doctors cuts the cost of these routine surgeries to $250 each. They are free for children from poor rural communities such as Uttar Pradesh.
But first, the parents of these kids need to be convinced that surgery is the answer.
Many in India believe the defects are God's will or are caused by natural phenomena like eclipses. But doctors believe poor nutrition during pregnancy or genetics could be the source.
A local representative, contracted by The Smile Train, persuades a father to take his little girl to the hospital. Her name is Pinki. She's 5 years old. Mylan follows her to the hospital, into the operating room and finally, through recovery.
"It's a happy tale, which is refreshing as a filmmaker to do," she says. "We've been calling it a real-world fairy tale."
Mylan says that fairy tale would not have been told without The Smile Train, which funded Pinki's operation and the award-winning documentary. Brian Mullaney is co-founder and president of The Smile Train.
"It won an Oscar, which is like winning the lottery for us," says the philanthropist. "More than we ever dreamed, we got thousands of articles, news stories and raised awareness about clefts."
Pinki's life has been transformed. Like other children around the world who had the surgery, she is no longer a shunned child without hope of education and marriage. She is a happy kindergartner and has already received a college scholarship. She says when she grows up, she wants to be a doctor.