The Gift of a Smile

Monterey doctor David Thomas Morwood is proof that philanthropy can be as natural as ABC—quite literally, as Argentina, Bolivia, and China are just three of the far-flung places where the prominent plastic and reconstructive surgeon has performed humanitarian missions. (His volunteering efforts have also taken him to Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Myanmar, Peru, and Vietnam, among many other locations.)

For over a quarter of a century, Morwood has devoted his spare time to traveling the world to operate on children suffering from cleft lips and cleft palates in developing regions. Morwood tells Gentry that, “In medical school, a plastic surgery professor, Dr. Peter Linton, told me how rewarding it was when he went to the Caribbean to care for children that had congenital deformities. One of my university deans, Professor Larry McCrory, taught me that life would be immensely richer if I immersed myself in other cultures and developed relationships with people from foreign countries.”

In 1992, shortly after establishing his own thriving private practice, the Carmel Point resident went on his first foreign excursion with Rotaplast International, Inc. The organization aims to eliminate the heartache of cleft lips and palates in children all over the world. Ever since, Morwood has participated in overseas assignments on an annual basis. As part of his humanitarian endeavors, he has performed approximately 800 operations over the past 27 years.

Morwood’s team sets a goal of conducting surgeries on at least 100 patients per visit. “Wherever there are babies, children, and the occasional adult with an unrepaired cleft lip and palate, we will get on an airplane and bring our surgical instruments. Besides Rotaplast, I work in tandem with Alliance For Smiles and the Plasticos Foundation,” Morwood adds. Additionally, he often helps to alleviate the impact of burned hands and facial paralysis in young children.

Morwood, a proud Rotarian who attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, is also a highly accomplished musician. He has entertained at the White House, performed during a nationally televised NFL Monday Night Football game, and played a set with Stevie Wonder. He is the jazz director and house drum-mer at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel, where his jamming partners have included none other than the legendary Wynton Marsalis. The money Morwood earns from various gigs and recordings goes towards raising funds for his charitable endeavors. Morwood was recently honored by the Jazz Journalists Association for his outstanding surgical service on missions abroad.

Globally, an estimated 300,000 babies are born each year with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Operations to repair the affliction can be completed in as little as two hours, and the procedure’s physical and psychological benefits last a lifetime. “Many of the children we operate on are orphans who have difficulties forming words and are often treated as outcasts,” Morwood explains. “Repairing their cleft lips and palates gives them a fighting chance in life.”

For this remarkable local hero, philanthropy is all about putting smiles on the young faces of the world. And all that jazz!

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