Children, parents and family have traveled – some for hours or days – by car, by bus or by foot to be here, at an Operation Smile medical mission. They’re hopeful. They’re anxious. Tragedy is almost certain without surgery. And for some, this day couldn’t have come sooner.
An Uncertain Future
Twenty years. Twenty-five years. Fifty-four years. That’s 99 years of needless suffering experienced by three of our patients: Virgilio, Enok and Marco.
As soon as a child is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, there are daunting odds stacked against them.
In many areas of the world lacking critically needed resources, people can’t get the surgical care they need from their local health systems, when they need it. Even if care is present, poverty prevents all too many people from getting surgery. Time and time again, this proves deadly for children born with cleft conditions.
As many as 93 percent of children with untreated cleft conditions will not survive to reach their 20th birthdays.
And if these children survive into adulthood, like Marco, who lived with a cleft condition for more than five decades, their lives are often marked by loneliness and painful bullying.
Parents who bring their children to Operation Smile hope for surgery that can change all of that.
Safety on Center Stage
But first, pediatricians need to perform comprehensive health exams to ensure that patients can safely undergo surgery.
A pediatrician’s findings are shared and discussed with the medical mission’s clinical coordinator, pediatric intensivists and anesthesiologists to determine if it’s safe for the patient to be put under anesthesia – the aspect of surgery that presents the most risk in any environment, including the world’s most advanced hospitals.
A Burden No One Should Bear
Sometimes offering up their stethoscope to curious patients, pediatricians can seem lighthearted while taking their role seriously.
While play serves its purpose among medical volunteers to help build trust with patients, this initial evaluation is critical to the patient’s safety ‒ like that of 4-year-old Ramata in Ghana. Though cleft surgery is ideal at the youngest possible age, Ramata experienced chronic health complications and surgery was too risky.
It was heartbreaking for the medical team to give that news to her mother, who traveled hours on rough roads with Ramata to the mission site with the hopes that her daughter could receive surgery.
Each of Operation Smile’s medical volunteers wish that no family or patient would have to experience the disappointment of being turned away from surgery, but a patient’s safety is always the first priority.
Treating the Whole Patient
When a patient is healthy and approved for their life-changing procedure, feelings of joy can turn into anxiety as surgery day approaches.
Surgery often strikes fear in patients and their families, some of whom have never stepped foot inside a clinic or hospital. Medical environments can be sterile and uninviting, but child life specialists help ease patients’ tension by using therapeutic play to create an environment that is welcoming and friendly.
Using equipment like anesthesia masks during these sessions is a method that child life specialists use to help children understand and become more comfortable with the medical setting, calming their nerves prior to being admitted into the operating room.
When patients are under anesthesia – especially as soon as it has been administered and before the patient returns to consciousness – pediatric intensivists are at-the-ready to recognize and react to any medical complications with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, medication and other live-saving treatments.
The vast majority of Operation Smile patients are children. While their roles differ greatly both at their respective workplaces and whether at an Operation Smile medical mission or at one of our care centers, open communication between pediatricians and pediatric intensivists is crucial to our ability to deliver the best possible surgical results for our young patients.
A Global Standard of Care
Reinforced by more than three decades of leadership in performing safe surgery in resource-limited environments, we know that a single surgical procedure is a small part of a larger, multi-tiered process that’s focused on the entire well-being of the patient.
By investing in bringing in the full cadre of specialties, local health systems take notice and will aspire toward exceptional patient care. We believe that anything less than excellence is unacceptable.
Our compassion for those we serve is put into action well before the surgeon makes the first incision and long after the final suture is closed. This commitment to the completeness of patient care doesn’t only ensure the best possible outcomes; it’s the right thing to do.
Guided by our Global Standards of Care*, our incredible nurses and plastic surgeons – together with our pediatricians, child life specialists, pediatric intensivists, anesthesiologists, among other critical medical specialties – deliver surgical results consistent with the world’s finest hospitals.
“In the settings we go into, we know that patients may not have access to the full complement of these specialties,” said Operation Smile Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Bill Magee. “So we’ve always set the stage for excellence – never modeling mediocrity.”
Why go to these lengths? The answer is simple: our patients deserve it.
*Global Standards of Care © 2006, 2015 Operation Smile, Inc. All Rights Reserved.