Bringing smiles: it takes a village

GSK PULSE Volunteer, Len is back working with a non-profit organization, Rotaplast, to provide pre-operative and post-operative pediatric care for cleft palate surgeries in Bangladesh.

GSK PULSE Volunteer, Len is back working with a non-profit organization, Rotaplast, to provide pre-operative and post-operative pediatric care for cleft palate surgeries in Bangladesh.

Each day as I care for the many patients having surgery I remind myself to take the time to talk to the patients and their parents. Behind each patient is a story and often the stories speak of heroes and goodness in society.

Today was our third day of surgeries and quite busy. Toward the end of the day I realized I had been preoccupied with medical care and had not taken the time to uncover a patient's story. 

So, when our next patient, a 14-year-old boy named Ram, was having surgery to release a burn scar on his right hand and arm that made the wrist and elbow immovable, I struck up a conversation in the recovery room with the man standing at Ram's bedside. I assumed the man was his father, but I was mistaken.

The man's name was Shamsul. Shamsul is 58 years old and is the assistant to the local doctor (i.e., faith healer) in a tribal village 100 km away (five hours by bus) from Chittagong. After seeing Rotaplast posters in Shamsul's village advertising our medical mission, he arranged for Ram to come to our clinic for evaluation. Shamsul also arranged for a 13-year-old child in his village with an unrepaired cleft lip to come to the clinic.

Shamsul contacted the Chittagong Rotary Club about the mission and through the generosity of the Chittagong family who owns the Ispahani Tea Company (I have been drinking Ispahani tea all week) these two children had their travel, accommodation and meal expenses taken care of. Without the sponsorship of that family, these children would not have been to have surgery as their parents have no money to make the five hour trip to our hospital. Shamsul took responsibility for both of the children from his village and brought them to our hospital.

The 13-year-old boy, Shiren, had his cleft lip repaired two days ago and his new smile looks great. Ram's burn occurred when he was five years old after he slipped in his home kitchen and his hand by accident went into a hot stove. Our miracle surgeons freed Ram's right thumb, wrist and elbow and covered the surgical sites with a skin graft. Ram was doing great when we left the hospital this evening and his pain was well controlled. We will be carefully monitoring the health of the skin graft and for signs of infection over the next few days.

After I finished speaking with Shamsul, he thanked me and the Rotaplast team for caring for Ram and Shiren. I thought "I should be thanking Shamsul for helping the people of his community." So I did. The picture shows Shamsul and Ram in the recovery room. I am glad I took the time today to sit down and talk to this kind and incredible man. It really does "take a village."