In my role as a Smile Train surgeon, I meet parents of children with untreated clefts everyday and they all have one thing in common. The first time they come for a consultation – their eyes show despair. There is also apprehension…is the surgery really free and will my child be safe? And hidden behind all this is hope. Hope – which blossoms into expectation as they see other children at the OPD, talk to other parents and meet the cleft team at the hospital. My favourite moment is that look of pure joy and amazement when they see their child for the first time after the cleft surgery.
Rohit’s case, though, was exceptional. When his parents, Ashok and Sumitra Panwar, were expecting their first child, they couldn’t have been happier. However, they were in for a rude shock when their beloved son was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. With no idea of what a cleft was, the couple, who are daily wage workers, ran from pillar to post to seek treatment for their child. Finally, they heaved a sigh of relief when they came across a six day free surgery camp for cleft. Without any hesitation, they signed Rohit up for a surgery.
Their joy was short-lived, because the lip surgery, conducted in a one-off camp, was poorly done, and resulted in Rohit’s stitches breaking off, causing pain and anguish to both him and his parents. The doctors who has conducted the surgery were long gone and there was no place where they could take Rohit for a follow-up consultation. For almost a year, the family lived in despair, until they visited an ENT surgeon, who informed them about Smile Train’s cleft program and redirected them to Goyal Hospital and Research Centre, Jodhpur.
When 2.5 year old Rohit reached the hospital, I wasted no time in getting to work. While every cleft surgery spreads happiness, Rohit’s transformation was truly remarkable. After the lip repair, his cleft palate surgery was also done by us and now he faces no difficulties in eating, breathing, or speaking. His parents call his surgeries a “miracle” and feel there could be no better endorsement for safe and timely cleft surgery than Rohit’s smile.
Transforming a child’s smile does not involve surgical intervention alone - preoperative examination to ensure that the child is fit for surgery, as well as postoperative care and follow up matters. Smile Train’s robust safety and quality guidelines and their ‘Teach a man to fish’ model for training surgeons is especially helpful to cover all the aspects of comprehensive cleft care. I will never forget how happy Rohit was to see me after the surgery - the way I felt cannot be described in words!
As narrated by Dr Sushil Nahar, Plastic Surgeon and Smile Train Project Director at Goyal Hospital & Research Center, Jodhpur.