Back to articles

Surgeons at St. Helena Hospital Changed a Young Girl’s Life with a New Smile

Human Interest

St. Helena, CA—Dr. Martin Paukert, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at St. Helena Hospital and Dr. Steven Herber, President and CEO at St. Helena Hospital and plastic and reconstructive surgeon, graciously performed a cleft and lip palate repair surgery for free, leaving Precious Wilson, a six-year old girl from Pohnpei, with a new smile and a beautiful future.


Precious Wilson was born with a cleft palate and lip, a common birth defect that occurs when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth and/or lip doesn’t fuse together. This condition affects one in every 700 live births worldwide, according to a study conducted by World Health Organization, (WHO, 2011) and one in 940 births in the U.S., ranking it the second most common birth defect. Left untreated, children can experience issues with their speech, hearing, eating and drinking and it often can lead to frequent colds, fluid in the ears, sore throats and problems with the tonsils and adenoids. This is in addition to other psychological issues associated with looking different which ultimately can lead to low confidence and self-esteem.


Dr. Herber agreed to perform the surgery on April 21, 2017. “I am happy and thankful for what Dr. Herber and St. Helena Hospital have done for my daughter,” stated Eveleen Wilson, mother of Precious. “Our family has been praying for a new smile for her for years.” 

Agreeing to perform surgery was the easy part. Coordinating the details and covering the costs of travel was challenging. It involved many individuals at St. Helena Hospital, Mahi International, a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for people in the Pacific Islands, and North Hills Children’s Church whose members worked tirelessly to raise money to pay for travel expenses for Precious and her mother. 

Precious’s surgery was a great success. She woke up to her mother holding her hand. Her father, Constantino Wilson, Skyped her from Pohnpei. His first words to her were “keh masamwahu” which means “you look beautiful”. Precious was excited to hear those words and get home to show her friends and family her new smile. But most of all she was excited to get back to school so she can graduate from kindergarten with her class. 

“It felt great to personally be able to help Precious with the surgery she needed,” said Dr. Herber. “It’s amazing what we can do when we all work together. Providing her with access to the surgery will change her life. I am so proud to be part of something that will make such a huge difference for her and her family for many years to come.” 

St. Helena Hospital is committed to providing surgery and specialty care for individuals who may not otherwise have access to health care by continuing to work with organizations such as Mahi International and other organizations such as Operation Access, an organization that brings together volunteer surgical care to local people in need.