Future of Smiles: Durgapur Medical Mission
Patients and their families braved the unpredictable weather of monsoon season to travel to the Future of Smiles medical mission*, organised by The Inga Health Foundation in collaboration with Operation Smile and hosted by IQ City Narayana Multispecialty Hospital in Durgapur, West Bengal, India from Aug. 16 through Aug. 23, 2017. Pictured here, patients walk with family members to the mission site where they will take part in the screening process. Operation Smile medical volunteers provided 193 comprehensive medical evaluations, which determine if a patient is healthy enough to safely receive surgery. Most of this mission’s patients, 140, were identified at pre-screening camps conducted by Operation Smile across the West Bengal region in the months leading up to the mission. A critical tool for recruiting patients, the camps are effective at determining the best candidates for surgery at upcoming medical missions while also allowing Operation Smile to earn the trust of those potential patients and their families. “Whatever we can do for these patients, we do it,” said Sumit Nandi, Operation Smile India’s patient coordinator who leads the camps alongside program coordinator Bhaskar Mukherjee and a team of volunteers. “We will not desert them and we make sure they know that.” Photo: Valentina Marginean.
A longtime patient of Operation Smile, 8-year-old Shuili returned to the Future of Smiles medical mission for her fourth (and final) surgery to repair her cleft palate. It wasn’t until four days after Shuili was born that her mother discovered her child’s cleft condition. Around the same time, she learned about Operation Smile. Shuili received her first surgery when she was 6 months old, but her case was very complex and has required several procedures throughout her life. Shuili’s mother works as a caretaker for a family whose son is a medical doctor in London. Since Shuili is unable to travel to receive speech therapy from Operation Smile, the kind doctor taught her speech exercises to practice. When she met our team, she said, “Hello, my name is Shuili” in perfect English. Her mother said that she is one of the brightest students in her third-grade class and when she grows up, she wants to be a medical doctor in London. Photo: Vini Mihill.
In conjunction with the Future of Smiles medical mission, Operation Smile hosted an educational workshop for 57 nursing students and 12 nursing staff members of IQ City Narayana Multispecialty Hospital. Led by Linda Bucher, an Operation Smile volunteer nurse educator, the workshop kicked off with lectures introducing the organisation, its Global Standards of Care*, the various roles of nurses in the mission setting and cleft-specific nursing care. Then, the students and staff were divided into smaller groups, each of which followed a patient through every stage of the mission process as they received world-class care from the Operation Smile medical team. “This training deepens our relationship with the hospital and impacts the professional trajectory of these young students,” said Valentina Marginean, program coordinator for Operation Smile. “It gave them exposure to what practicing nurses do every day – treating patients with dignity, care and compassion and allowing that empathy to be their drive to provide quality treatment.” Photo: Valentina Marginean.
Operation Smile volunteer nurse educator Linda Bucher, seventh from left, poses with participants of the Future of Smiles medical mission nursing education workshop. Photo: Valentina Marginean.
Ganesh suffered from a cleft lip for 50 years before arriving at the Future of Smiles mission. There are no hospitals that provide surgical care in his community, but he learned about Operation Smile when patient recruiters came to his hometown with leaflets and posters promoting the mission. Ganesh jumped at the opportunity to finally receive surgery and travelled with his 27-year-old son to the mission site. Despite working as a street food vendor, Ganesh has always struggled to eat properly and stay nourished because of his cleft condition. He said that after surgery he looks forward to finally enjoying the food he makes and that he will look handsome for his wife. Photo: Vini Mihill.
Eleven-month-old Ankan, pictured here with his father on screening day, received surgery for his cleft lip at the Future of Smiles medical mission. Reporting and photo: Mallory Lacy, Operation Smile U-Voice student volunteer.
When Rikta, a former patient of Operation Smile, learned about the Future of Smiles medical mission, she was inspired to make the two-hour journey from her home to Durgapur. “I rushed here to thank them,” said Rikta, who received her first cleft lip surgery at 6 years old from Operation Smile at a medical mission to Bolpur in 2005. Four years later, Operation Smile medical volunteers provided her with cleft palate surgery before she received a second cleft lip surgery from Operation Smile in 2014. It was after that third and final procedure that Rikta decided to “dedicate her life to helping humankind.” Now, the 18-year-old is an honors physiology student at Suri Vidyasagar College and is studying to become a nurse. “Without them, I could not be what I am now,” Rikta said of Operation Smile’s medical volunteers. Reporting: Mallory Lacy. Photo: Jack Schaeffer, Operation Smile U-Voice student volunteers.
Rikta waits with her mother during screening day at the 2005 Operation Smile medical mission to Bolpur, West Bengal, India. Operation Smile India Executive Director Abhishek Sengupta shared his memories of meeting Rikta when he was a student volunteer at that mission. He was the translator who helped Rikta and her mother communicate with the medical volunteers who provided the then 6-year-old with the first of the three surgeries she would receive from Operation Smile. “Rikta's journey is truly inspiring – it has been such a pleasure to see her grow up to this fine, ambitious, beautiful soul that she is today. It's a privilege. Thank you, Rikta!” Photo: Marc Ascher.
Operation Smile volunteer child life specialist Jennifer Fieten, left, explains her role on the Operation Smile medical team to an IQ City Narayana Multispecialty Hospital nurse, centre, and nursing student during the Future of Smile medical mission’s educational workshop. Child life specialists provide psycho-social care and educate patients and their families about the entire surgical experience, easing their fears and anxieties through therapeutic play and activities. Photo: Vini Mihill.
Of all of the patients who received surgery during the Future of Smiles medical mission, Arju’s condition was unique. The 3-year-old was born with an extra finger on each hand and one extra toe. Some members of his family and community even considered the extra digits to be a symbol of good fortune, but his mother, Tarpasi, pictured here, wanted to be sure that the digits were removed before he started grade school. She worried that Arju would suffer from bullying due to his condition and that the digits – loosely attached by only skin – could be ripped off if he were to get into a scuffle with a classmate. Arju received surgery to remove his extra fingers and will return in two months for the procedure to remove his extra toe. Reporting and photo: Mallory Lacy, Operation Smile U-Voice student volunteer.
A 10-month-old patient dances as music plays from his mother’s phone shortly after receiving cleft lip surgery at the Future of Smiles medical mission. The Operation Smile medical team performed 140 surgeries over five days – well above the mission’s original projection of 120 surgeries. Photo: Vini Mihill.
*Editor’s Note: Operation Smile and the Inga Health Foundation are working to increase access to surgery in India that's safe, effective and timely. Through our partnership, we're conducting surgical programs in strategic locations, opening and sustaining surgical centres in various states, and engaging with key government stakeholders through "Future of Smiles" medical missions to promote statewide collaboration. Operation Smile hopes to establish a centre of care that will provide patients with the highest quality of ongoing surgical care and treatment, as well as education opportunities for health workers by maximising local and global partnerships that ensure the timely provision of funding, supplies and human resources.