Free Swiss treatment for cleft lip

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  • Published 25.09.07

Ranga, who had a severe cleft lip and palate, one of the commonest birth abnormalities, lost his father at the age of six months. His mother was left to fend for herself and raise him, and she almost gave up. Till she felt the healing hands of Swiss face surgeon Hermann F. Sailer.

In a 14-hour operation, Sailer closed Ranga’s cleft lip palate, moved his jaws and corrected his nose. The healing process went off well and at the first change of bandages, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw himself in the mirror. He now greets guests at the front desk of a star hotel with a charming smile.

Ranga got lucky. But for most of the 35,000-odd children born in India every year with this congenital malformation, even a faint smile is impossible and it could turn into a terrible contortion because of the defect of the constrictor of the mouth.

“They are teased by peers and shunned by society. Worse, 50 per cent of the baby girls born with monstrous malformations are often killed,” says Sailer, founder-president of Cleft Children International (CCI), based in Zurich.

CCI, which already has integrated cleft treatment centres running in Mangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai, having clocked over 13,000 surgeries since 2000, has tied up with Calcutta-based Bhagwaan Mahaveer Cleft Foundation (BMCF) to set up eastern India’s first Swiss Cleft Centre in the city.

“Although there’s no structured study for reference, the incidence of a cleft lip in West Bengal will easily be over 3,000. Our target is to perform at least 500 surgeries in 2008,” says oral and maxillofacial surgeon Kamlesh Kothari, who underwent training at Sailer’s Swiss Cleft Centre in Chennai.

BMCF, Kothari’s brainchild, aims to provide surgical, functional and psychological rehabilitation of children born with this deformity. To begin with, surgeries are being done at Genesis Hospital, on the Rashbehari connector. All operations are carried out free.

While The Missionaries of Charity and the PS Group are already partners in this project, the foundation is trying to tie up with like-minded NGOs to locate patients.

Clefts in the lip or palate area develop between the fourth to eighth week of pregnancy. During this time, the embryo’s tissue of the bilateral parts of the future lip and palate is supposed to join together to form the upper lip and palate as a ceiling of the oral cavity. If these parts do not correctly join, different malformations may arise.

The most frequent are combined cleft lip, maxilla and palate (70 per cent) and cleft palate only (30 per cent).

“Infants with a cleft lip and palate are unable to suck at the mother’s breast. During eating, the food may get expelled from the nose while swallowing,” says Sailer.

The open palate also hinders comprehensive speech. Without surgical insertion of special tubes into the ears, an ear infection may frequently set in and cause deafness.