For Miami Herald.

When Romana Akhter was just a couple days old, she developed a hemangioma, a build-up of blood vessels in the skin. It quickly spread, leaving disfigurements on her face, particularly her right side.

Now 19 and in her first year of college at Miami Dade College, Akhter is on her way to a new look, thanks to Baptist Children’s Hospital’s 13th Annual Day of Smiles. Four surgeons, with the assistance of nurses, planned to perform corrective facial surgeries on six children Saturday at the hospital, which donates its facilities for the procedures.

“I never used to talk to anyone,” said Akhter, “I thought I would have to deal with this for the rest of my life.”

Because of her family’s financial strains, Akhter didn’t think her family could afford to pay for the corrective surgery. Saturday’s surgery is free.

“It is very difficult for children to go through life like this,” said Randy Lee, Baptist’s chief operating officer.

The surgeons planned to correct such issues as cleft palates, cleft lips, scars, tumors, burns, ear deformities, port wine birthmarks and congenital hand deformities. The doctors and nurses also volunteer their time to perform the procedures.

“They know it’s a good cause and what it means for those kids,” Lee said.

The hospital sends letters to schools and clinics seeking patient referrals.

“I really enjoy this type of surgery,” said Dr. Joel Levin, chief of plastic surgery and the person behind the event. “It’s immediate gratification because we see the results right away.”

Levin had been a trauma surgeon during the Vietnam War, which inspired him to volunteer with Operation Smile, an international charity that corrects cleft palates and other facial deformities for children around the world. Levin established Baptist’s Day of Smiles in 2001.

For Akhter, doctors had planned to rebuild her lips and nose using soft tissue.

“I’m excited,’’ said Akhter, who is planning to apply for a job at a bank after she recovers from the surgery.

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