I was brought up in Mumbai, and studied to be a doctor at Lokmanya Tilak Hospital. Towards the end of my first year of college, my mother passed away. She had been my rock and inspiration, and it was difficult to manage the house without her. However, I had promised her that I would become a doctor, and that drove me to continue with my studies.
Through my schooling years, many people told me that plastic surgery was not a field for women, but I had made up my mind. I was passionate about plastic surgery, and I looked forward to pursuing it. For me, it combined my mother’s artistic sense with the science of medicine. I loved the fact that there was no “one size fits all” solution - it was a science that required creativity, understanding, and knowledge. I shifted to Vishakhapatnam in 2001, and thanks to a supportive family and husband, I was able to start the Department of Plastic Surgery at Seven Hills Hospital there.
When I was practicing in Mumbai, I had seen several cleft patients come to the hospital in search of treatment. Unfortunately, insurance did not cover the surgery, and most parents returned home empty-handed as they were unable to afford the cost. I was also not convinced about large-scale cleft camps that were set up, where patients arrived in thousands and doctors were operating in unfamiliar, unhygienic environments.
So, I was on the lookout for an organisation that would connect underprivileged cleft patients to doctors like me. It was long after, in 2005, that I learnt about Smile Train. I loved Smile Train’s work because I thought they did a wonderful job of empowering local doctors, whether it was through quality equipment or the wherewithal to conduct camps. Clefts are a correctable condition, and Smile Train’s model ensures high standards of safety to make sure that surgeries happen with minimal side effects.
Over the past 14 years, I have operated on around 2800 patients through Smile Train, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Once, I was visiting a temple with my in-laws. There, my mother-in-law happened to see a girl pointing at me. The child and mother came running and almost touched my feet.
The love and affection with which they looked at me made my mother-in-law so proud! Moreover, I could hardly recognise the girl as she had become so confident that her body language had completely transformed! I realised that the only limiting factor for most children with clefts was their self-esteem, which we as a society have constantly brought down.
To all the women out there, I want to say that the sky’s the limit. Though it hasn’t always been easy balancing marriage, children, and family with a busy career, when I look back I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and the lives I’ve touched along the way. In this journey, Smile Train played an important role.
As shared by Dr Anjali Saple. Dr Saple is a plastic surgeon and a Smile Train partner from Seven Hills Hospital, Vishakhapatnam.