A cleft lip is a congenital facial deformity which may arise due to malnutrition, heredity or complications during pregnancy etc. It is the second most common congenital deformity, and an estimated of 1 in 700 child in India is born with cleft.
“It is a birth defect and could be life threatening and side effects, if not treated rightly, could lead to serious problems. A palette is something which separates the nasal tract from the mouth but a person with a cleft lip or cleft palate doesn’t have this separation. Hence, when a baby is born with the condition, it becomes difficult for it to suck breast milk. When the baby grows, whatever s/he consumes comes out from the nose. This leads to respiratory infections and malnutrition,” adds Dr. Hitesh who is a plastic surgeon with the organization.
Overlooking the mighty Brahmaputra river, Mission Smile’s Guwahati Comprehensive Cleft Care Centre building has a touch of tranquility. The Guwahati Medical College, one of the leading colleges for medicine in India, has partnered with the organization and given them space in a three-storied building. The first floor is the patient ward where patients get admitted, the second floor is a hospital comprising of a dentist, speech therapist, nutritionist, pharmacy and an operation theater, and the third floor are the administrative offices.
On entering the building though, one would not think it is a hospital given the Disney murals on the walls, cartoon cutouts hanging from the ceiling and the mermaid blue paint. “Most kids are not at ease in typical hospital environments. To make them feel comfortable, we made this space look like a play school. This helps us to examine them without much fuss before the operation,” explains Dr Hitesh.
Most kids that Mission Smile operates on have been recommended to the organization by doctors primarily in rural Assam. “We have an agreement with the Government of Assam and that is how we are recommended to anyone who is identified with the problem,” adds Doctor Hitesh.
The centre has conducted over 15,000 surgeries till date, all of which have been successful and the non-profit has conducted over 27,000 Safe Corrective Surgeries through its Centres and Missions (or medical camps) across India.