Orthodontics, Students

Student treasures ‘moments’ with craniofacial patients

A group of students and staff members around a table.
Students and staff members help celebrate a craniofacial patient's Magical Moment, made possible through the Magical Moments Foundation.

Catherine Bingham, DDS ‘26, was first exposed to children with facial differences when she was in fifth grade. The headquarters for Operation Smile was located near her hometown, and she recalls making hundreds of handmade hair bows to give to little girls undergoing cleft palate surgeries.

That desire to give back to children going through these surgeries has stayed with her ever since, and she is now a second-year dental student and the director of student chapters for the Magical Moments Foundation, a wish granting organization for children with facial differences.

A “magical moment”

Bingham first got involved with Magical Moments during her first year of dental school, after connecting with Adams School of Dentistry’s Ronald Strauss, DMD, PhD, who is a director at the organization.

“With much excitement and passion, I contacted the founders of Magical Moments that same day with the intention of creating the first national chapter of the foundation here in Chapel Hill. My goal was to help grant the wishes of our UNC craniofacial patients and to spread awareness about the physical and emotional health challenges that children with facial differences endure,” she said.

Bingham’s role with the organization has grown exponentially. She said she started thinking beyond Chapel Hill when a student from nearby university asked for help starting another chapter there. During the past year, Bingham has traveled to universities across the country, presenting on the good work the foundation does and offering encouragement and advice on how to start and sustain chapters at other schools.

“Being able to meet and collaborate with such creative, motivated, and passionate students throughout this journey has been an incredible experience and has given me great hope for the future of Magical Moments Foundation. As the Director of Student Chapters, it is my greatest pleasure to support these clubs as they grow into well-established organizations, grant lifelong wishes, and make the world a more inclusive, caring place,” she said.

CJ’s story

CJ poses with UNC mascot Rameses during a “Magical Moment.”

Magical Moments and ASOD craniofacial faculty and staff members were recently involved in making one patient’s wish come true. CJ was born with a cleft lip and palate, and despite having a rough journey, he always has a smile on his face. To really give CJ something to smile about, the UNC chapter set out to make the Tar Heel super fan’s wish come true.

CJ is a football player and has always dreamed about attending a UNC football game, as the team serves as a big inspiration for him. With the help of generous donors, the UNC football team and UNC mascot Rameses, Magical Moments surprised CJ with tickets to a game and a private meet and greet with the team.

Catherine’s next step

Stories like CJ’s serve as inspiration for Bingham and have only strengthened her desire to keep this work close to her heart as she pursues her dental career, with a focus on craniofacial orthodontics.

“While I have always shared simple kindness and compassion with others, I have long desired to have a unique skill-set that can address both the emotional and physical well-being of those in need. Becoming a craniofacial orthodontist will allow me to craft and serve others with such a skill-set,” she said.

And while she treasures each and every “moment” she is able to help facilitate, the first one still holds special significance for her.

“There really is no feeling quite like surprising a child with their lifelong wish, watching their jaw drop, followed by a smile stretched from ear to ear, and the biggest hug you’ve ever received. Seeing Mom and Dad tear up as they reminisce on all that their child has been through and how deserving they are of this moment. And, of course, all of the tireless hours of work that go into planning and fundraising make granting these wishes even more rewarding.”