A Journey of Smiles by Eva Sanchez- Recova Post Surgery
Medical Aid in India: A Journey of Smiles
By Eva Sanchez, Recova Post-Surgery- Body Languaje Medical Journal June 2014 Newsletter
I had always imagined my first trip to India involving visits to temples, elephant trekking through the jungle or sunning myself on the beach in Goa. I never expected to be working in an operating theatre in a remote village hospital dressed from head to toe in green scrubs for a week. But that is exactly how my first experience of India went, and it turned out to be one of the most positive and rewarding things I have ever done.
I first heard about the medical aid work that Shailesh Vadodaria is involved in while I was working alongside him at his clinic in Harley Street in 2008. Mr Vadodaria is a UK-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon originally from a rural part of Gujarat in India. He has made regular trips to developing countries, chiefly India, since 2000 to operate on underprivileged children born with cleft lip and palate. I found this work fascinating and admirable, and wanted to contribute in some way. In January and February this year I had my chance: an opportunity to join his team for a trip to the Walawalkar Hospital and Research Centre in Dervan, Maharashtra, India.
And so it was that I found myself on a plane to India at the start of what was to be a genuine adventure. It has to be said that Dervan is not the easiest place to reach in the world. After our long flight to Mumbai, followed by a seven hour journey by train and a rather bumpy and erratic introduction to the roads of Maharashtra, I was fantasising about my comfy bed back home. Eventually we successfully arrived at the accommodation centre, but there was no time to rest. Stepping out of the car blinking in the afternoon sun and feeling somewhat dishevelled and weary, we were warmly greeted by the hospital staff before heading straight to the ward to visit the patients.
Walawalkar Hospital began operations in 1996 with basic facilities, and has since grown to become a multispecialty hospital with 300 beds, a medical research centre with 260 staff, five operating theatres and 50,000 patients per year. My introduction to the hospital was quite an experience: the very definition of overwhelming. I had never seen so many people in need of help in one room before! As we made our way through the packed ward the patients watched us silently and patiently in unison, which was quite unnerving at first. The thought that all of these people were waiting for treatment for lingering injuries and conditions that would be treated as a matter of course in the UK was a sobering realisation.
Without further ado, the group of volunteers and medical staff, led by Mr Vadodaria, began the process of evaluating the patients one-by-one. Many of them were children, awaiting surgery for a variety of conditions, including serious scalds, burns from kerosene stoves, and congenital deformities. Despite their obvious discomfort, the young patients smiled throughout their evaluations, and were the very picture of cheerfulness in the face of adversity. It seems that these children could teach many western adults a few lessons in life.
Based on the initial evaluations, Mr Vadodaria chose between five and six patients from the wards to operate on each day in one of the hospital theatres. The selection procedure focussed on the degree of injury, but children had a priority, and many of these suffered with cleft lip or palate. Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects caused by abnormal facial development during gestation. A cleft is a gap that can affect the upper lip and the roof of the mouth. Around 1 in 700 children worldwide are born with this condition which can also affect the eyes, ears, nose, cheeks and forehead. Children born with cleft lip or palate typically face difficult challenges very early in life, with basic activities such as eating, speaking or even smiling seriously compromised. Sadly, in some parts of the world, children and adults with cleft lip and palate often end up marginalised due to their difficulties in communicating, and for this reason, early treatment is ideal.
While it was incredibly rewarding to get to know every patient before and after their surgery, a few of them made a particular impression. During the triage work in the wards, I couldn’t help but notice one particular 12 year old girl, Pallavi, who was awaiting cleft palate surgery. She greeted us with a shy smile and beautiful bright eyes, and she clearly loved to sing. She had an intense energy and a soulful voice, which was unfortunately kerbed by her cleft palate. She had corrective surgery the following day at the skilful hand of Mr Vadodaria, and hopefully now she can become the singer she aspires to be.
Through this experience, meeting people like Pallavi, and seeing how their lives can be transformed as a result of medical aid, I have realised just how important the work of surgeons like Mr Vadodaria is. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage like-minded medical specialists to take some time out of their busy professional lives to turn their skills to improving health in developing countries. Even a relatively short space of time can be immensely valuable to patients who benefit from treatment that they may otherwise have struggled to receive, and, like me, you may discover that voluntary work of this kind enriches your own life.
Eva Sanchez is the founder and managing director of Recova Post-Surgery (http://www.recovapostsurgery.com/), a UK-based provider of post-surgery compression garments and surgical bras.
Mr Shailesh Vadodaria is the founder of the Help Smile Trust (http://www.helpsmiletrust.co.uk). Help Smile works internationally to provide free and safe reconstructive surgery for children and young adults born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities. Thanks to Help Smile Trust and its medical volunteers, hundreds of children have received the gift of a beautiful smile every year.
London 10K 2014 – If you would like to help raise money for the Help Smile Trust, and feel like a challenge this summer, then why not take part in the London 10K run on 14th July 2014 (www.thebritish10klondon.co.uk). The Trust has secured 30 places in the event, and if you would like to join the team to raise money for this good cause then please contact Help Smile at email@example.com or telephone 02070784378, 07792648726.