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Three Little Bears



Lisa Lori knows too well the heartache of a mother whose child can’t smile. Her three sons, Zachary, Luke and Griffin, were born with an extremely rare form of facial paralysis. Their unusual conditions—an enduring medical mystery—made grins impossible and eating and speaking extremely difficult.

The boys’ complicated medical needs led Lisa and her husband, Mathew, on a painstaking international search for intervention. Help finally came from Dr. Ronald Zuker, a Toronto-based pediatric plastic surgeon, who performed a series of transplants on each boy; extracting muscle from their legs and implanting it in their faces.

Eleven-year-old Zachary, Lisa’s oldest, was the first to have the procedure in 2009, which involved two surgeries and a painful recovery: “The first time he smiled, we were in Target. And I told him, ‘Zach, I think your face just moved.’ If you’ve never seen your child smile, well, I can’t begin to describe how overwhelming that is.”

In gratitude for that smile Lisa, a Greenwich-based public relations executive and her close friend, luxury handbag designer Kathy Van Zeeland have collaborated on a pay-it-forward project intended to help parents around the world see their children smile too.

Together, the former high school track teammates have created three cuddly stuffed bears to benefit Operation Smile, the international nonprofit that brings surgeries to Second and Third World children with cleft lips, palates and other facial deformities. Since Dr. Zuker is a frequent Operation Smile volunteer, “this is our way of saying thanks to him the best way we can,” says Lisa.

For $240—roughly the cost of some Operation Smile surgeries—donors can purchase two Zachary, Luke or Griffin bears. One bear goes to the donor, the other to an Operation Smile patient to use as a comfort object. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the bears’ sales go to the charity, because Kathy and her husband, fellow accessories designer Bruce Makowsky, have completely underwritten their costs.

The Lori boys, Greenwich Catholic students who range in age from eleven to eight, also got in on the charitable act, selecting the bears’ signature purple, blue and brown T-shirts. Lisa especially loves that the project puts a snuggly toy in the hands of children about to have surgery: “Some of the kids having these surgeries live in extreme poverty. It’s not unusual for them to arrive for surgery with nothing.”

Talking up the bears has also provided a welcome outlet for the family: “We had always dealt with the boys’ conditions very privately. But this has been a way to answer questions that made a lot of people feel uncomfortable,” Lisa says. “These are very treatable conditions, but so often they don’t get treated because of poverty or access to medical care. We were tenacious and able to advocate for our kids, but in the Third World most parents don’t have the resources.”

So far the project has raised $45,000. And a first shipment of bears recently joined an Operation Smile mission to Morocco. “To see that Zachary bear in a little boy’s arms was extraordinary,” says Lisa.  “It only makes me want to do more.” —Beth Cooney Fitzpatrick

The bears are available at operationsmile.org/fbcatalog or at operationsmile.org/bears.

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