By Amy Wenk

amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Buckhead resident Bruce Patterson was born with a cleft lip and palate, a birth defect that afflicts one in 700 children. His childhood became a blur of hospital visits, surgeries, orthodontic procedures and difficult recoveries.

“All throughout my early childhood, I remember the countless surgeries,” said Patterson, a former restaurateur. “The taste of baby food is ingrained in my memory. I remember being pulled out of class for speech therapy. I was always making silly excuses as to why I have the scar on my lip. I’ve listened to numerous jokes about cleft lip over the years.”

After decades of being ashamed, he decided in 2008 to use the experience for good. He started the Save A Smile Foundation to bring awareness and provide treatments for children with cleft lip or palate. The nonprofit is the recipient of funds generated by the Atlanta Holiday House, a 22,000-square-foot home that is showcasing the work of 25 interior designers through Dec. 20.

“About a year ago, after I sold my restaurant, Spice, I began looking for something special to do with my life that had real purpose,” Patterson said. “I kept coming back to wanting to give something back to the community that has supported my endeavors throughout my career.”

The money raised by Save A Smile benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and other hospitals that treat cleft lip and palate, and helps families afford treatments. The average child afflicted with the birth defect undergoes 17 surgeries that can cost around $250,000, said Patterson.

“My mission is to raise money and build awareness to support Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and to help create other hospitals that can be modeled after Children’s,” he said.

In the past year, Save A Smile has raised $75,000 from three events. Patterson said he hopes to raise $300,000 through the Atlanta Holiday House.

The first-ever event will take place at a $14.5 million French estate on Ridgewood Road off Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead. Built by Steve West of Steven West Custom Homes, the house has seven bedrooms, eight fireplaces, an indoor basketball court, movie theater and spa retreat. Each room features holiday motive from Atlanta decorators.

“For $20, you can’t get entertainment like this anywhere in the world,” said Gary Gross, who hosts a show about nonprofits on Radio Sandy Springs. Gross, Patterson’s long-time friend, was at the Atlanta Holiday House volunteering just days before it opened Nov. 20. “You are going to see one of the largest houses in Atlanta.”

Director and Event Coordinator Patricia Warrick said about 93 percent of every dollar raised for Save A Smile will go back to the charity.

”We try to get every single penny back into the foundation,” she said.

For more information about the Save A Smile Foundation, visit www.saveasmilefoundation.org.