Guest post by @1Dad1Kid
Cleft lips and palates are something rarely seen in many developed countries. Typically they’re repaired during infancy; however, Asia has a unique situation in that it has a higher proportion of cases and not enough trained medical professionals. These are not merely cosmetic issues. Such deformities cause speech problems, frequent infections, and inadequate nutrition. And then there is the severe social stigma. Children with cleft lips find themselves unable to attend school because they are the targets for extensive ridicule. There is even a special word in the local dialect for “cut lip” which is used derisively. Without education their lives are further constrained.
When I joined up with Uplift Internationale, I looked forward to being a small part of this program as a member of outreach, a nonclinical, support role. My assignment was to blog and do photography, things I thoroughly enjoy. At the same time I wanted an experience that would immerse me in another side of culture and wondered how I might be changed by it.
Allowing for travel days, unpacking and repacking, we would only have a few days for actual surgeries. Because of this if a child presented with both a cleft lip and palate, they would repair the lip since that was the issue that complicated their life the most. We couldn’t do both repairs on the same day since that would further limit the number of children we could treat. The seriousness of the need for these procedures was further demonstrated by the story of 24-year-old Miguel who walked for 3 days to be able to get his cleft lip repaired. He arrived before we did, and so he camped out in the hospital. When staff discovered him, they contacted some of their friends in the area (he didn’t know anyone), and they took him in like he was family. The Filipino sense of community is simply amazing.
The day after our arrival, a staging area is quickly set up, and the next morning we are greeted by long lines of people waiting for their procedure. They were evaluated by nurses, a dentist, the surgeons, anesthesiologists, speech therapists, preop pictures were taken, and they were also consulted on by our pediatrician before being scheduled. To ensure patients didn’t eat past the appointed hour, they arrived at our ward the afternoon before. On the day of surgery, families would wait at the end of the hall until they could come see their loved one in the recovery area. On day #2 of surgeries, we had a situation where we needed twice the number of days since we had post- and preop patients now. No problem, they just have 2 kids share a bed, something you would only see in America if there was something at the level of Hurricane Katrina. And even then probably not. Even when we had to have preop patients put out mats on the floor in a lobby area, they simply smiled and set up their area. I found myself constantly humbled by these families.
Another part of outreach is tracking down former patients and seeing how they are doing, making sure they don’t need further surgery, and also checking to make sure siblings aren’t in need of corrective procedures. Besides seeing all the wonderful smiles, my favorite part was getting out into the barangay and seeing a slice of life that one would normally not experience as a visitor.
I was so thankful for an incredible team of professionals who were donating their time to do these surgeries and changing lives. In watching them operate, it was clear to me these children were getting the same level of care and quality anyone in the States would receive. One of the talented physicians, a plastic surgeon from Boulder, Colorado, explained, as he looked down and made finishing touches on a repair that can only be described as artful: “This is why I [do these missions] every year. It reminds me why I got into medicine.”
For me one of the most touching scenes was when a child looked into the mirror and saw their new smile for the first time. Something that usually was accompanied by tears from family members. Lilly’s grandmother burst into tears seeing her granddaughter smile for the first time. “She would always cry whenever she saw herself in the mirror,” she explained to us, wiping tears as they streamed down her sun-kissed, wrinkled cheeks. She was teased mercilessly at school and refused to go anymore. “You have given her life!” And in a way, that single moment did the same for me.
Talon & Tigger
Talon & Tigger (now 9 years old) comprise the Windwalker Duo, known as @1Dad1Kid on Twitter and Facebook. On their blog you will find details of their indefinite round-the-world trip beginning in May 2011. After exploring parts of South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, they will be settling down in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for about a year as they continue to travel and then will continue living in other countries, unschooling along the way. Talon is also a regular blogger at TravelingDad.com. He hopes that other people, especially families, will be inspired to “Live Without Regrets!”