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news News Wednesday, December 19, 2018 Wednesday, December 19, 2018 2:12 PM - Wednesday, December 19, 2018 2:12 PM

Childhood experiences shape physician’s career path

Childhood experiences shape physician’s career path

Growing up, William Magee III, M.D., D.D.S., experienced the difference that medical care can make as he traveled the world with his parents as they provided no-cost, life-changing surgeries to children with facial birth defects. Dr. Magee’s parents, Kathy and Bill Magee, founded Operation Smile and inspired their son to continue the effort.

Dr. Magee went on to become a world-renowned plastic surgeon. He attended dental school at the University of Maryland, and medical school at George Washington University. He completed a six-year combined residency in general surgery and plastic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and a fellowship in craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgery at the former Shriners Hospitals for Children — Los Angeles (now Shriners for Children Medical Center in Pasadena).

Now chief of plastics and director of the cleft lip and palate program at the Shriners for Children Medical Center in Pasadena, California, Dr. Magee remembers his roots and inspiration. In his office are photos from a childhood trip to Kenya, where he played with and helped care for children, the hospital hallway so dark that he could barely make out their faces. “Whenever you have times that are difficult and you remember the experiences that were so vivid,” he said, “they can drive you through the challenges of your life.”

Looking for a cure

As director of international programs for the division of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California and associate professor in the department of surgery and global health, Dr. Magee also researches the causes of cleft deformities. Dr. Magee launched the International Family Study. Gathering resources from the Operation Smiles program and the University of Southern California, the study is exploring close to 14,000 DNA samples drawn from families affected by cleft lip and palate to determine its cause. He is hopeful the results of the study can produce a cure. Dr. Magee and his team have learned that advanced maternal age and hypertension are contributing factors, as are poverty and pollution.

The ability to help families

While working with genetic testing, Dr. Magee developed a close relationship with a family of three boys who were all born with some form of cleft lip, demonstrating the role of genetics in this condition and the importance of quality care. Annalisa, the mother of the three boys, was devastated when a routine ultrasound revealed that her first baby, Jaxon, would be born with cleft lip and palate. When Jaxon was born, it was clear that she needed to find help.

Luckily, she found a member of Shriners International (the fraternity that founded and continues to support the health care system) who introduced her family to Shriners Hospitals for Children and explained how he could help. A few weeks later, they were scheduled to see Dr. Magee at the Los Angeles Shriners Hospitals for Children (now Shriners for Children Medical Center in Pasadena, California) for a surgery consult.

“Dr. Magee made us feel life family,” said Annalisa. “He took the extra time with us and answered any questions we had.” After Jaxon’s successful surgery, Annalisa knew Dr. Magee was the right person to help her family. “We were very blessed to find Dr. Magee with our first and laid down a solid foundation for our next two boys that came to our family,” Annalisa said.

Dr. Magee will continue to care for the three boys and other children with cleft lip while he works to find answers that could lead to solutions and improved treatments.

Three brothers with cleft lip and after surgery collage