Tarsem lives in a small village in Punjab, India, with her husband and their three children. Her youngest, 11-year-old Anmolpreet, is a Smile Train patient. This is her story in her words.
I first saw Anmolpreet’s cleft when I went into labour in our local hospital. It was a saddening moment because I had suffered the same problem — I, too, was born with a cleft and had surgery for it when I was 12. So I was aware of what was coming for my baby.
My husband was working in Dubai at that time, so I was left to care for Anmolpreet all alone while also caring for our two other children. Feeding him was extremely difficult. I tried using a dropper or a spoon, but he never got it all*. Knowing that your child is underweight and hungry even after you do everything you possibly can to feed him is heartbreaking.
We were able to save up just enough to schedule him for surgery on his cleft lip when he was six months old.
That surgery did lead to an improvement, to a certain extent, but it was not enough because Anmolpreet still had his cleft palate, which meant his feeding problems remained.
Thankfully, it was around that time that a midwife told me about the possibility of free surgeries through Smile Train at Amandeep Hospital in Amritsar.
I didn’t believe it at first, but I thought we had nothing to lose by going. Once at the hospital, the cleft team assured me that all of Anmolpreet’s care would be free for us thanks to the generosity of donors around the world. They then examined Anmolpreet thoroughly and diagnosed him with anaemia. They warned us that If we couldn’t get his weight and haemoglobin levels up, it would be impossible to safely operate. That would have been terrifying, but happily, at the same time, they also gave us helpful feeding instructions and gave us a prescription for his anaemia.
For the next six months, I meticulously followed the nutrition specialists’ instructions and made sure Anmolpreet never missed a dose of his medication.
When the time for his surgery came, my son had reached a healthy weight and haemoglobin level! Still, as a mother, taking your child to the operating room is always scary. I was afraid of what would happen, although I had walked the same path. I remember the relief, happiness, and appreciation of seeing the result. It was amazing.
Overnight, his feeding issues disappeared and his speech improved significantly.
As Anmolpreet has grown, the team at Amandeep have remained a constant good in our lives, providing him with continuing speech care, psychosocial support, and even additional cleft surgeries like the one he needed last year. The result is that he has grown into a proud and confident young man who excels in school.
When Anmolpreet was very small, children ran away from him and refused to talk to him because of his cleft. But today, those children who once avoided him are some of his best friends. He never let them get him down.
Most remarkably of all, Anmolpreet’s favourite hobby is singing! Yes, this child no one thought would be able to talk now loves nothing more than getting up and singing for anyone who will listen. Neighbours who once told me he would always be sick and excluded now tell me how amazing it is to see him walk, talk, play cricket, and sing with such confidence.
I want to thank Smile Train and express our deepest gratitude to all their donors out there. I hope they will help the team at Amandeep Hospital and other places be more and more successful in treating children with clefts. We certainly never could have afforded this treatment without them, and I wish the same life-changing opportunity for more and more children.
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