15 Years and Counting

Smile Train

Dr. Bharati Khandekar

Smile Train completes 15 years of operations in India, and I complete 15 years of association with Smile Train. Hence, I thought it’s a good time to pen some thoughts of what we have seen together.

My journey with Smile Train started way back in 2000 when I joined B.J. Wadia Hospital as a clinical assistant. In 2006, I moved to Godrej Memorial Hospital, joining Smile Train program as a Consultant Plastic Surgeon. With the help of Smile Train, the hospital and I undertook a path of growth and progress to become a center for comprehensive cleft lip and palate service. Today our six-member team of orthodontists, maxillofacial surgeons, plastic surgeons and speech therapists work around the clock providing world class care, absolutely free of cost.

Through the years, Smile Train’s model of ensuring free surgeries to patients by supporting their travel expenses etc., encouraged many to travel from remote areas of the state as well. Smile Train also invested regularly in our growth by facilitating frequent conferences and workshops, and providing access to global medical experts. Our very own STARS conference became a platform of great learning with excellent scientific content. Over the years I developed a bond with Smile Train which constantly encouraged me to devote more and more time to help the children who visited us.

A highlight in this journey was when we hosted Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at our hospital. Last November, she spent a few hours with us, interacting with all our patients and their families. She took out time to interact with everyone, and we all felt involved and important, rather than just spectators. I still recall that following the event, everyone I knew had a WhatsApp profile picture with Aishwarya!

Having been on this journey together, I am excited to celebrate Smile Train’s 15th anniversary in our own way at the hospital through innovative events. We will soon be holding a seminar on speech with our speech therapist to sensitize parents. We are also in the process of organizing an event to celebrate the success of one of our patients- Sharvari who not only stood first in her class (in a general category) but also won a singing competition. Such stories help us uplift the morale of other children and their families, who are deeply impacted by cleft.

Working day in and day out with children born with clefts is an intense journey, but stories of complete integration make me smile! Recently, a family looking at adopting a child born with cleft came to me, and asked for all information regarding cleft. After we took them through the entire process and assured them that cleft is correctible, they adopted the boy! It was great news, I was as ecstatic as the boy! We operated upon him recently and now he has a family to share his smile with!

For the past 15 years, Smile Train has invested its resources to create awareness about cleft lip and palate. The result of it is evident in the fact that we now also receive pre-natal cases, where pregnant mothers come to us to understand more about cleft lip and palate, so that they are prepared for the same when the child is born. Such progress has been possible only through the rigorous efforts of Smile Train.

These 15 years have been a great value add to me- personally and professionally. Thank you Smile Train for empowering us to provide safe medical care in proper infrastructure, rather than camps in the middle of nowhere. Most importantly, thank you for empowering us to innovate, learn and grow every day.

Dr. Bharati Khandekar is a consulting plastic surgeon at Smile Train partner hospital — Godrej Memorial Hospital. With an experience spanning 17 years, Dr. Bharati is an alumna of prestigious institutes including Grand American College and Nair Hospital in Mumbai

* The views expressed are those of the author. They may or may not reflect Smile Train's position.

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