For the fourth year in a row, Drs Clawson and Vessely have visited the Beit CURE Hospital, providing plastic surgery for many kids in Zambia.
The hospital started getting the word out last fall, notifying rural clinics and hospitals of the upcoming opportunity for children to receive free cleft lip or cleft palate repair surgery. Tim and other doctors from the hospital were on the radio and tv stations, talking about the visit. I handed out flyers at the ladies’ Bible study I attend. It was on several different Facebook pages. And the receptionist at the hospital contacted the children from last year, who needed followup appointments or more surgery.
Generally, if a child has both cleft lip and cleft palate, the lip is repaired first. This surgery is not as complicated or long, and makes a huge difference in the child’s appearance, and ability to eat or breastfeed. The child comes back the following year for cleft palate surgery. We had people from 2 months to 21 years come to the hospital to see about surgery.
The clinic was on a Sunday, and it was busy! Some children were deemed ineligible for surgery – underlying illnesses, or having a condition that required a different specialist. These children were told to come to the hospital in the fall, when we have another team of plastic surgeons coming. Families came all throughout the week – even after the last surgery was completed on Friday afternoon! The surgeons flew out on Saturday, so Friday afternoon was the end of operating hours.
It seemed as though just coming to the screening clinic was therapeutic for some of the families – seeing other children with similar conditions to their own kids’ created an opportunity to talk to others going through the same feeding difficulties, stigma, fears, etc. Since so many of the hospital’s patients come from outlying rural villages, for some of the families, this may be the first time they see another child with the same condition – whether it’s cleft lip, club foot or hydrocephalus.
The OR list was sorted out by the surgeons, but then changed throughout the day, depending on the child’s health that morning, unforeseen complications, etc. Generally, the youngest kids (babies) were treated early in the day, since they can least handle “starving” (fasting before surgery). More complicated cases were also often done early in the day – and were scheduled early in the week, to allow recuperation time before the surgeons leave the country.
Each child came with one guardian (parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, etc) to provide personal care – feeding, bathing, etc. Some families came with multiple children, both parents, etc. – especially families that traveled a long distance – some people traveled 8-10 hours on a minibus to get to the hospital. Our spiritual team had great opportunities to share the Gospel with the visiting families.
At the end of the week, we felt like we had seen miracles – children who have had difficulty eating, speaking, and who have been ostracised, are given new hope – not only surgically, but spiritually as well.