India's first cleft toll-free helpline launched

India's first cleft toll-free helpline launched
Kulsum Mustafa

VARANASI: A historic step was taken in the direction of cleft treatment when India’s first cleft and palate patients’ toll-free helpline was launched from Varanasi- the world’s cleft treatment capital recently.

Declaring 18001800125 as cleft patients’ helpline, Dr Subodh Kumar Singh of G S Memorial surgery hospital and trauma centre, Varanasi, said this will give the parents of cleft children the welcome chance to get answers to all their queries. The launch was part of the celebrations of ‘Muskan festival’-the annual event organized by the hospital for the last several years.
This year the celebrations had been up-scaled as the awareness campaign for cleft has received an impetus after the Smile Pinkie documentary on cleft received the Oscar award. Pinkie hails from Mirzapur in Varanasi and it was Dr Singh who performed the operation on her at G S Hospital that changed her life for ever.

The vice president of Smile Train, Mrs. Delois Green wood declared the helpline open at the hospital on November 21. Ms Greenwood and a galaxy of Smile Train associates and supporters were in Varanasi as special invitees from US on the special day. They included US Television popular star Jane Kaez Mareck, Meg, Karen, Robert, Yuan, US industrialists Mr. Clark Kokich, Lisa Kokich Strain, Suzie Kokich Strain,

“Participating in the ‘Smile festival’ organized annually at Varanasi is a truly ‘heavenly’ experience,” said Jane as she interacted with several parents of cleft children.

The hospital was abuzz with activities. The hospital premise, situated in the heart of the Holy City, is decorated with balloons and buntings on this special day. It is the venue of thanks giving by those cleft kids who have returned for the annual check-up. There were hundred of parents carrying their babies waiting to get dates for the operation. While many have come from nearby villages some of them have traveled hundreds of miles, from other districts and states to reach the ‘world capital of cleft treatment.’ Additional corrective surgery, after the miraculous operation. There were hundreds of new cleft patients who had come with hope and faith in the miracles of modern day surgery. Over five hundred cleft children were registered by noon and the dates of operations given to them for the next few months. According to rough estimates 15,00 cleft operations are conducting here monthly.

“From misery to joy it is simply a matter of just an hour’s surgery and all totally free. The transformation in both the physical and psychological is unbelievable,” said Mr Satish Kalra, South Asian representative of Smile Train.

Overwhelmed by the traditional welcome and the sight of hundreds of cleft children, some just a few months old Lisa had to fight back tears as she said how happy she was to be part of the endeavor that is giving “children another chance.”

Dr Subodh Kumar Singh, the miracle surgeon for cleft in India heads the hospital which is affiliated to ‘Smile Train’- the international NGO that works in 76 countries and offers totally free treatment for poor children with cleft. In India alone they have supported two lakh cleft surgeries in the last nine years.

Known as the surgeon who put the smile on the lips of Pinkie- the protagonist of Oscar winning documentary ‘Smile Pinkie” Dr Singh has through Pinkie given all cleft patients a hope. He has made them believe that cleft is not permanent, that there is a new life waiting for them after a simple operation. He is the doctor who has made gifting smiles his business. He has been doing so for the last five years.

“Smile train has given back the smile to 500, 000, mainly poor children and their parents. But India is special, and more so is Varanasi because this is the city of Pinkie- the little girl who told an extraordinary story to the world and created awareness through her film. We want to make more Pinkies Smile.” She said.

Dr Singh while welcoming this awareness generation that has taken place with the support of the media said, “Our work is not over, In fact it has just begun. In India we have a backlog of 10,000 children of cleft who need to be operated upon.”

“A child who had been looked upon by society as a curse, and treated as a bad omen by her neighbors, gets a totally new face, personality in a matter of minutes. And the child does what he has never done before- smile. Seeing a post operative cleft child smile can make the eyes of most stout man turn misty,” said Dr V C Gupta, chief anesthetic, in his vote of thanks at the function.

Kulsum Mustafa
(The author is a senior journalist and Secretary-General of Media Nest)