Remembering Satish Kalra, the Man Who Made South Asia — and the World — Smile

Smile Train

The global Smile Train family and the entire cleft community join together in mourning the loss of Satish Kalra, a man who brought smiles to over 500,000 children in need.

Satish was so many things: A trailblazer. A masterful storyteller. A force of nature unwavering in his commitment to doing good. In other words, he was the true definition of a Smile Maker.

Satish in a group of Smile Train patients

He single-handedly started Smile Train India from his home in 2000 and in just 16 years, oversaw its growth into more than 210 partner hospitals in four countries. By the time he retired in 2016, more than half a million children in need received lifesaving cleft treatment thanks to his selfless efforts.

Though he directed Smile Train’s programs across the most populous subcontinent on earth, he knew the name of every one of the hundreds of Smile Train partner surgeons in his region, along with exactly what he or she needed to make their program the best it could be. The late Dr. Hirji Adenwalla, Smile Train’s first partner doctor in India, would often recall their first meeting. Satish came to his office, paper and pencil in hand, and thirstily soaked up anything he would teach him about clefts. The next time they met, Dr. Adenwalla was amazed to find his new friend speaking to him on equal terms as one cleft expert to another.

He considered Satish’s contributions to cleft treatment “beyond compare.”

Satish holding a Smile Train patient

Though Satish was not a doctor himself, partner surgeons learned no less from him. Dr. Subodh Singh, one of India’s leading cleft surgeons, will always remember how, when Satish reached out a hand to comfort a patient at his hospital, the child would instantly relax. Those interactions, Dr. Subodh said, taught him more about bedside manner than he ever learned in medical school.

“He is the most amazing person I have known,” Dr. Subodh said. “His capabilities, humility, focus, dedication, and insatiable desire to help cleft patients has changed the way clefts were being treated in India (and many other parts of the world). He has inspired many and has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of families and children. I learned a lot through my years working with Satish.”

Satish speaking from a podium

Mamta Carrol, Smile Train’s Vice President and Regional Director for Asia said, “Satish’s wisdom, leadership, work, and inimitable style are what we admire. It is he who has created Smile Train here in India, and it is he who has brought us to it and nurtured us to grow and be where we are today. Everyone — the Smile Train India team, doctors, donors, the global management, the Indian government, beneficiaries — all admire, love, and respect this one man, who was so much to so many people. He will be dearly missed.”

“Satish’s brilliance, wisdom, wit, beautiful smile, and huge heart will be missed throughout the organization, but he will always be a part of our Smile Train family,” said Smile Train’s President and CEO Susannah Schaefer. “He truly loved Smile Train, our model, and our work to empower local cleft programs. He was a hero and a Smile Maker and those of us who knew him will forever hold his memory close in our hearts.”

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