In 1982, William Magee was a young plastic surgeon on his way to the Philippines with his wife, Kathy, a pediatric nurse, to operate on children with cleft lips and cleft palates.

He expected he would return home to Norfolk, Va., empowered by his sense of service. "The world would be wonderful," he said about his thinking at the time. "The guilt would be ridden."

But he was wrong.

Magee and his team saw 250 children and turned all but 40 away from the surgery due to limited time and resources. "I felt so bad," he said.

Back in the United States, the Magees started talking with friends in the medical community, and Operation Smile was born. About 135,000 children have received surgeries in the last 27 years in 51 countries.

The Magees were in Salt Lake City on Thursday, along with some 9,000 other people from around the world, for the seventh annual XanGo conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center. This week, XanGo has unveiled a foundation called XanGo Goodness, and Operation Smile will be one of its recipients.

XanGo, a multilevel marketing company based in Lehi, will sponsor three Operation Smile missions in the next 18 months. Each mission costs about $150,000. Although the surgeons and staff are volunteers, the equipment is pricey and the surgeons take time to train local doctors. Only about 10 percent of plastic surgeons have the training to operate on cleft lips and cleft palates, which means that few children in the developing areas get the surgeries.

The missions will be to Thailand, since that's where the mangosteen fruit from which XanGo's flagship product, XanGo Juice, is grown. The company wants operations for children of farmer workers who harvest mangosteen.

"We're wanting to give back to the part of the world that's blessed us so much," said Bob Freeze, XanGo's vice president of corporate communications.

At a black-tie event Wednesday night, the foundation raised about $35,000 for the foundation. The surgery costs about $240, and so XanGo asked distributors to buy a few surgeries. Money also was raised through an auction for Xango executives. Distributors, for instance, paid to go to a spa in Los Angeles with an executive and pick his brain.

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Magee said XanGo has been helping Operation Smile for years through volunteering. Many distributors are multi-lingual and have provided translation. Distributors have also found children in villages in the developing world who have needed surgery and have sent them to Operation Smile.

The XanGo conference continues through the weekend, and features breakout sessions on best practices in sales, company product updates and a visit from Chris Gardner, the real-life inspiration behind Will Smith's character in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness."

e-mail: lhancock@desnews.com

Twitter: laurahancock