Abu Dhabi, UAE: With their first surgery for cleft lip correction scheduled to be performed this month, Operation Smile UAE, which has helped provide free surgeries to over 3,000 children around the world born with a cleft lip and palate, is bringing a smile to a child’s face, one surgery at a time.
At least one in 700 children is born with a cleft lip, an orofacial defect that affects the child’s upper lip. In many cases, a child can have both a cleft lip, and a cleft palate, with the latter occurring when the roof of the child’s mouth is not properly formed.
Doctors have yet to determine what causes the deformity, which can lead to eating, hearing and speech problems.
“In 2010, Shaikha Alyazia Bint Saif Al Nahyan, wife of Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, wanted to set up a charity to help children born with cleft lips and palates after she read about it. After several months of getting the legalities and registration completed, we opened in January 2011 and funded our very first mission in the Philippines, helping treat 144 children,” said Morag Cromey Hawke, executive director at Operation Smile UAE.
“In total, we have funded 13 missions in several countries including Jordan, Morocco, India, and China among many others. Over 3,000 children have benefited from these missions thanks to the free surgeries carried out. Our main goal is to give every child born with this condition the chance to have a normal life,” Hawke added.
“In the UAE, we have just started to try and facilitate surgeries for children because there is a long process you have to go through before you can get the approval,” said Hawke. “We are happy to say that our first operation in the UAE will be carried out this month on a six-month-old baby.
“We are also working with hospitals and orthodontists throughout the country to get them involved in providing some of the treatment. In some cases, they will be providing the treatment for free, while in others, we will step in and provide some of the funds. We’re working out the agreements,” she added. The organisation currently has around 40 medical volunteers, with new volunteers being recruited every week, said Hawke.
Laney Hood, a nurse who has volunteered her services to the organisation, has taken part in five missions. “I work as a pre- and post-op nurse. We take part in the screening of the children to see if they are candidates for the surgery. If the child gets picked for surgery, our job is to get them ready for the medical procedure, and to take care of them once they get out of surgery,” she said.
Volunteering with the charity has taken a lot of time and dedication, Hood added. “I have used all of my holiday leave this year for volunteering missions. It’s worth it though because as a nurse your job is to help others and it’s a great feeling to go somewhere and help people who may not have access to the care they need. It’s a rewarding experience when I get picked to help these children,” she said.
Dr Simon Chummar, an oral maxilla facial surgeon, has also devoted his expertise to volunteer with the organisation.
“The first mission I took part in was in the Philippines. We screened around 55 children and operated on 48, and it mainly involved closing the palate. We actually did the procedures aboard a US Navy ship which we used as a hospital,” he said.
Since then, Dr Chummar has been involved in other missions and said he is ready to continue volunteering. “It’s a duty to help the underprivileged. As a volunteer, you want to contribute to society,” he added.
A cleft lip is a split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip and appears as a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip.
A cleft palate is a split or opening in the mouth’s roof.
Cleft lip and cleft palate can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. Because the lip and the palate develop separately, it is possible to have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, a cleft palate without a cleft lip, or both a cleft lip and cleft palate together.
© Gulf NewsOct 2015