Jacksonville couple volunteers to perform surgeries for Operation Smile

Rodney and Marijose Kapunan are not only husband and wife.

They are both registered nurses in Jacksonville.

Their talents are also used beyond the River City.

They are volunteers with Operation Smile as they perform free surgeries for people born with a cleft lip or cleft palate.

“You give them hope,” Marijose said, who works in the cardiovascular operating room at Baptist Medical Center in downtown Jacksonville. “You take away the bullies around them because you make them feel normal.

They started doing the surgical programs with Operation Smile back in 2014 when Rodney went to the Philippines. That is where they were born.

It was personal for Rodney because his cousin had a cleft condition.

“She did suffer from a cleft condition, which is very complicated because it required three or four surgeries,” Rodney said, who works at HCA Florida Atlantic Emergency. “The result was really excellent.”

“When he came back, he was a changed person,” Marijose said about her husband. “I saw that and got encouraged.”

Together, this couple has done dozens of surgeries around the world, including Egypt, China, India, Guatemala, Bolivia and Mexico.

“Every three minutes, one person is going to be born with a cleft condition,” Rodney said. “There is a big need for the surgery.”

The Kapunans say the surgeries are life-changing for the patient and their families.

They help improve appearances, speech and nutrition while reducing the chances of patients being infected with a disease.

“We both have the capability of helping in our way,” Marijose said.

“It was really a desperation for me to be able to join and give back to the organization,” Rodney said.

There are more than 6,000 medical professionals who volunteer with Operation Smile.

The Kapunans do not plan to slow down any time soon.

Rodney just got back from doing a surgical program in the Dominican Republic two weeks ago.

He is heading to do another one in Peru in June.

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