We often think of plastic surgery as something wealthy people do to retain their youth or improve their looks, but it’s a crucial form of medicine for those born with medical conditions such as a cleft palate.
Cleft palates are some of the most common birth defects in the world. It occurs when the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth doesn’t form properly in the womb. Left untreated, the condition often leads to feeding and speech problems that can severely limit a child’s development.
In third world nations like India, finding treatment for cleft palates is nearly impossible. Most families can’t afford the cost of corrective surgery, and there are few doctors qualified to fix facial deformities. That’s why one doctor has devoted most of his life to fixing children’s smiles — for free.
Dr. Subodh Singh grew up in poverty in Varanasi, India. His father died when he was just a boy, and that loss left a huge hole in his life. Always a scholar, he couldn’t afford medical school until one of his brothers got a new job and scraped up the cash. Subodh wasn’t about to let this hard-won opportunity go to waste. From the moment he got his medical license, Subodh was determined to help the poor.
Dr, Singh is now a world renowned plastic surgeon. In 2001, he established G S Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital in memory of his father. The hospital provides state-of-the-art reconstructive surgery to patients at a low cost. He also teamed up with The Smile Train project in 2003. The Smile Train is the largest cleft surgery-focused charitable organization in the world. Together, they’ve helped 37,000 children live better lives thanks to cleft palate repair surgery!
“We have not only corrected congenital deformity, but also reunited families where the husbands abandoned the wives for delivering a cleft baby,” said Dr. Singh. “Our team has saved hundreds of severely malnourished cleft kids through the focused nutritional support training programmes.”
Laborer Kartik Mondal says he considers Dr. Singh to be a true hero.
“A government hospital in Kolkata refused to treat my son and asked us to wait for surgery,” the grateful father said. “But Dr Singh and his team in Varanasi gave him a new life. The doctor is a god to me and my family.”
Thanks to Dr. Singh’s work, patients are now able to get corrective surgery earlier, leading to better outcomes down the line. “When we started this initiative in April 2004, the average age of patients was 10.8 years,” he explained. “Now the average age is one year, which takes us closer to the target of surgically bringing smiles to all cleft children through corrective surgery as early as three months old.”
Dr. Singh has helped patients as young as 3-months and as old as 76 years! He’s now trains other surgeons to perform this life-changing surgery to ensure his philanthropic legacy lives on.
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