Lindsay Anderson interacting with other medical volunteers during a programme in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Zute Lightfoot

Linsday shares our belief that every child deserves the very best care, and the chance to smile and thrive without fear of prejudice. We caught up with her recently to find out more about her passion to help children with cleft conditions.

Q: When did your journey with Operation Smile begin?

A: “I was inspired by a work colleague – Dr Clive Duke, a consultant anaesthetist – to apply to Operation Smile UK as a volunteer operating theatre nurse. Clive would chat to me about the programmes he had attended and show me pictures of the children. I felt inspired, moved and I wanted to be involved.”

Q: When was your first surgical programme?

A: “2014 was my first surgical programme to Hanoi, Vietnam. A 25th anniversary programme, I was jet lagged and arrived in the city feeling a bit like I had arrived on another planet! “However, after meeting the children and the families at screening day, I thought; ‘this is why I am here!’ I had to go outside to cry, then I pulled myself together and began screening patients and from that moment on I became part of the Operation Smile family.”

Q: How many Operation Smile surgical programmes have you been on?

A: “I have to date, been on about 12 surgical programmes. I feel experienced enough now to be an educator and presented to OR nurses in Malawi. I enjoy teaching with the thought that a competent, safe team can be sustainable as an in-country programme.”

Q: What keeps you motivated to continue to volunteer for Operation Smile?

A: “Every child deserves the absolute best care and to be able to hold their heads up high in society, go to school, live in the community without fear of being ostracised, and to be able to smile and have that grin reach their eyes, their soul.

“Personally, I feel humbled by my OS experiences, the trust that the families put in us by handing over their children is touching, we are strangers, they trust us, they want the best for their families. It is an honour and witnessing the joy post operatively of the parents is special.

“I return home from a programme feeling tired, yes, but enriched, as if I am seeing with fresh eyes. I am aware of how lucky many of us are.”

Lindsay with Emily Silcox during a surgical programme in Ho, Ghana. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Lindsay providing training to OR nurses in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Photo: Zute Lightfoot

Q: How do you feel in the operating theatre during surgery week?

A: “Preparation is the key, having a good team working towards the same goal, overcoming challenges while maintaining safe practise.

“I find it amazing how we all gel as an ad hoc team, we all seem to work together as if we have worked together for years. We help and advise each other, teach, support and work closely with the local team. We all become like a well-oiled machine!

“I like to try to create a less clinical atmosphere for the awake patient entering the operating room, a cheerful cosy blanket, a toy, some decorations on the doors, it is a scary time for them even when prepared well by child life therapists, so that being as quiet and as calm as possible with everything prepared is important. Sometimes it is best to have a translator who can chat to the patient in their own language.”

“I really enjoy playing with the children on screening days and using my creative skills to amuse them. Meeting the families is special too, and obviously the patients too, the old and the very young!
Knowing that each patient will go through a complete screening – even if not a candidate – is important for me. I take pride in my work, in all our team, and we’re always so grateful to the hospitals and staff who allow us to take over during surgical programmes.”

Lindsay Anderson, OR Nurse from the UK

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