Expressions Dental & Cosmetic Clinic are delighted to announce that we are supporting Operation Smile Ireland. Operation Smile is a world wide organisation that provides medical and surgical care to babies and children with cleft lip and palate, in the worlds poorest areas. It is believed that in these areas up to 93% of children born with cleft lip and palate which go untreated will fail to reach their 20th birthday, and of those that do they are often condemned to a life of loneliness and bullying. In Ireland these children are comprehensively cared for by excellent surgical teams and are well maintained by multidisciplinary teams.
Whilst there is a little cross-over between the medical teams that care for them and the general dentists that care for their teeth there is a reason why these types of cases and these tiny helpless people are so close to our hearts. I spent some of my early career working in one of the few major cleft lip and palate centers in Swansea, South Wales. During this posting I was involved in the care of several Welsh patients at several stages of their treatment. Whilst it was immensely satisfying to complete the final surgical revision to a young woman's smile after many years of reconstructive surgeries, the most impactful patients during my time in the department were the small 3 month old babies.
As a very newly graduated dental student my hand in the amazing surgery provided by these incredible teams was minimal, myself and my small team of junior doctors were gathering pre-operative information, talking through the procedure with the parents, helping the senior doctors and the consultants to gather x-rays and blood results. There were moments though, like before the procedure when out of the corner of your eye whilst running through the medical forms, in the days before the operation, you would see mum and dad steal a little glance at each other and give each others hands a squeeze. At this stage I'm still too young, naive and inexperienced to give them the reassurance that they need at this unbelievably stressful time, as they prepare to send their delicate newborn down for surgery. The time when, after surgery, and we are creeping around the ward trying not to wake anyone so that we can check the baby's wound and vitals in the early hours of the morning. We were surprised at the time to find that the parents were of course awake holding vigil at the bedside, likely gripped by fear that I can only now as a father imagine.
Like I have already detailed, we were small cogs of a very large machine, but at that time in the immediate aftermath of the surgery we were the only faces they would see from the team until morning. At this point as senior house officers we had other problems to deal with. We could be bleeped by pager to attend A&E to suture up the faces of the local youths after drink fuelled fighting. We would be checking on our pre-op and post-op cancer surgery patients. We were often trying to steal a few minutes sleep on the couch in the doctors mess, or grabbing a snack from the vending machines. Often walking around in a caffiene stupor, juggling the responsibility of caring for up to 30 patients on four different wards across a huge hospital campus. The sight of the tiny baby in the dull light of the paediatric ward late at night would always jolt us back into reality though, close to the hubbub of the nurses station. The size of these tiny people is really what had the biggest impact, their vulnerability, the despair on the parents faces. These children though unlike those in the developing world will ultimately receive the sort of care that will likely mean they will suffer no long-term disability. This was 12 years ago now, and I still value the life lessons this job gave me, having a huge impact on my empathy and bed-side manner, working with one of the best surgical teams in the UK.
As profound as an impact as that had on me, it is horrifying to me to think of their being millions of children around the world in places like Nepal, Mozambique, Malawi and Honduras that receive no treatment at all, some neglected and ostracised from their families.
That is why Expressions have opted to support Operation Smile Ireland. Through our various fundraising events in the year we hope to be able in some small way to be able to provide these children with safe surgery. Keep your eyes out on our website, Facebook and Instagram pages for ways to support us throughout the year.
For more information on Operation Smile Ireland's work see www.operationsmile.ie