It was just another normal day for me but I never fathomed it would become one of the most memorable days of my life. A call from Smile Train India informed us that our center in Burdwan, West Bengal had been awarded ‘Global Leader in Cleft Care’ by the organization!
When we became a partner of Smile Train in 2008, there was no provision of cleft lip and palate care in Burdwan. Everyone had to go to Kolkata for treatment. Starting the center was a revolution. We started off with no infrastructure and facilities. Smile Train helped us in many ways, providing the necessary training, funding and medical infrastructure. As a partner, we worked by Smile Train values of safety and quality surgeries from the first day. Until we had a complete team in place, we didn’t take in any patients. We never wanted to put a child’s life at risk. However, once the team and infrastructure was in place, we undertook outreach campaigns through media and our medical team to create awareness about cleft lip and palate.
The journey to 2800 surgeries wasn’t easy! People were sceptical about such surgeries and sometimes preferred to go to Kolkata only. They weren’t sure if a hospital in Burdwan could provide all the required facilities. We had to fight this perception, while also convincing them that cleft is a medical problem and not God’s will. Moreover, the areas near Burdwan are very backward and poor. Hence, the primary concern is earning two meals a day and not getting a ‘smile’ on the face. This was a major task, and it took us time to convince everyone for the surgeries.
Once the surgeries picked up, our patients became our brand ambassadors. They would go back to the village, with a big smile on their face, and looking at them, five more patients would come to us. Today, as our team is more experienced, and our infrastructure is world class, we serve more patients. The average age of patients being operated for the first time has also reduced from 4 years to almost 1 year.
We take pride in being able to provide holistic care in peripheral areas such as Burdwan. I believe that providing medical care in cities such as Kolkata isn’t a major challenge. The challenges are in towns such as Burdwan where there is no infrastructure, and it is difficult to retain medical staff like nurses. Smile Train has played a very important role in helping us establish and continue providing such medical treatment.
Having worked in so many hospitals across the country, and even a small stint in the UK, I decided to come back to Burdwan (my home town) to utilize my skills and help my people. I probably couldn’t have sustained here for so long, had it not been for Smile Train. I also worked with other medical charities before, but they worked through camps. We would go to a town, stay there for a week, perform 40-60 surgeries and come back. I would never know what happened to my patients, where they are, if they are doing well etc. But through Smile Train, I am now available for my patients throughout the year, helping them with follow up surgeries and seeing them benefit from our services. Many come back to share their achievements- academic, personal and professional. This is gratifying and cannot be expressed in words… The recognition of ‘Global Cleft Care’ from Smile Train has added to our happiness!
Today, I am proud and happy that I made the decision to come back — all thanks to Smile Train. Smile Train is a game changer in true sense, and a reason for happiness in my hometown- Burdwan.
Dr S.A. Faisal is Head Plastic Surgeon at Smile Train’s partner- Camri Hospital. Camri hospital was recognized as ‘Global Leader in Cleft Care’ by Smile Train last year. Dr Faisal is an alumnus of BJ Medical College, Ahmedabad from where he completed his MBBS in 1989 and received his degree in plastic surgery in 1995. He has been a partner surgeon with Smile Train since 2008.
* The views expressed are those of the author. They may or may not reflect Smile Train's position.