On April 9, 1997, at a luncheon for the American Cleft Palate/Craniofacial Association, in New Orleans, Joanne received the 1997 Parent/Patient Leadership Award.
At that luncheon, Joanne shared the following words as she accepted this honor:
"Thank you. I am honored by this recognition, and I want to thank you all for this lovely award. But I want you to know from what humble beginnings such great things can come.
"Ten years ago, in a small town outside of Seoul, Korea, a child was born. He was tiny - a month and a half premature - weighing only four pounds. He was facially disfigured, with a unilateral cleft lip and palate. And two days after he was born, the woman who gave birth to him, left the birthing clinic alone. He was tiny, facially disfigured, vulnerable, and alone. And yet this baby eventually touched. the world.
At that same time, on the opposite side of the planet, I was dealing with struggles of my own. I wanted to be a mother. But for reasons I could not begin to understand, that was not happening.
"Other people were able to accomplish this goal on accident. I couldn't even do it on purpose. Not, at least, until this baby was born. And then it took one phone call. One question, and one answer. Would I consider being the mother of a child born with a cleft lip and palate? The answer was a resounding YES! And that baby became my son. I didn't know then what a cleft was all about, but I did know what a baby was about, and I knew I wanted one of them! Whatever a cleft was, I would deal with it. I was going to be a mom!
"Seventy-two days after that phone call, I stood at the Los Angeles International Airport, waiting for my very last time. Five babies were arriving for adoption. My baby was one of them. I had sent a blanket my mother had made into customs with the escort s. I wanted to recognize my own baby right away (like I would not recognize the one in five who had a cleft!)
"And then I saw him. First I saw the blanket, and then I saw the bundle. And then, I saw my son. The escort stopped below me as she came out of customs so I could snap some pictures of the baby. Suddenly I realized that I could he HOLDING this baby! I shoved the camera toward another escort and ran to the top of the ramp.
"The escort with my son met me there. She laid him in my arms. I pulled the blanket away from his face. He looked up at me, and he smiled. "I like to believe that that smile, on that day, spread from my son's face, to mine, and eventually out to all of you - and to your patients and to your patients' families.
"As my knowledge base and my network grew, I began to help other families who were adopting children with cleft lip and palate. My family grew also, and I adopted again, and eventually once again - children born with cleft. "When the number of families I was helping grew almost too large for me to juggle, one mom suggested that I consider doing a publication. "From that suggestion, Wide Smiles was born six years ago. From Wide Smiles, cleft-talk (our internet discussion network) was born, and from Cleft-talk, the widesmiles.org web site was born.
"Today, Wide Smiles magazine is distributed to all 50 States and to 26 countries. Cleft-talk represents about 250 families, representing every populated continent on this planet. And the Wide Smiles website distributes information at a rate of 45,000 hits per week.
"Ten years ago, in a small town outside Seoul Korea, a little baby was born. He was tiny, facially disfigured, vulnerable, and alone. And yet that baby - my son - Jacob - eventually touched the world. "Thank you so much for this honor."