Three members of the operating department at West Suffolk Hospital have returned from a two week trip to Ghana where they worked to transform the lives of youngsters with facial disfigurement.
Leading the Bury St Edmunds team was Dr Clive Duke, consultant anaesthetist, who has worked with charity Operation Smile since 2010.
Dr Duke was joined on the latest trip by Lindsay Anderson, theatre nurse and Sarah Whitrod, recovery nurse.
The trip found them working flat out, operating on 162 patients in just fve days.
Operation Smile sends first world medical teams to third world countries to carry out surgery for people suffering with cleft palates and cleft lips, mainly young children.
Dr Duke learned about the charity through specialist surgeon Per Hall who practices at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and is now working to train medical teams in Ghana
Dr Duke, who has taken part in eight missions, said: “I was mortified to realise how stigmatised the children are from these conditions. One teenager on the last mission thought of committing suicide and when we asked him how the cleft palate had affected him he said just four words ‘I have no friends.’
“These children don’t go to school and that can mean their mother has to stay at home to look after them so it halves the family income in some cases.”
The last mission was funded by the Bannatyne Group with Duncan Bannatyne raising thousands in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
Families travelled from all over Ghana to the operating theatres run through the charity.
One in 500 children are born with a cleft palate and in some countries this has a devastating effect on their lives.
In Ghana there is still a preconception that children born with these facial deformities are cursed and and in some instances babies are killed.
Through the work of Operation Smile the message is being spread that there is hope for these children and their families.
Dr Duke said: “I get a huge amount out of this and love doing it. The idea is that we save a lot of children from the horrible stigma associated with this. And there are medical issues associated with a cleft palate such as difficulty eating and speaking so there is a medical and emotional need for this surgery.”
Each member of the West Suffolk team paid £300 towards their trip and used their holiday time off. Dr Duke said the hospital and the BMI St Edmunds in Bury St Emunds, where he also works, were both very supportive of the mission.
All Operation Smile team members have to be accredited and work using first world medical equipment in clean and safe surroundings.
This trip the three volunteers joined the seven consultant anaesthetists and nine plastic surgeons from all over the world as well as dentists, speech therapists and child care specialists.
“I am very passionate about this. When you hear the children’s stories you realise how important this is.”
At the end of this trip the medical team were given a thank you by patients and families who sang and danced for them. “It was hugely emotional. We were all in tears.”
Dr Duke has worked in Assam India, Madagascar, The Phillipines, Rio de Janiero, Paraguay, Vietnam and Ghana.