GSK PULSE Volunteer, Len is working with a non-profit organization, Rotaplast, to provide pre-operative and post-operative pediatric care for cleft palate surgeries in India & Bangladesh.
On a recent Saturday at the Nurture Centre, we made 17 new smiles. One of the children is 10-year-old Riyaz. Soon after birth he developed a growth on his upper lip that was operated on when he was six years old. After that surgery, the growth increased in size and two years ago he also developed a growth on his left upper eyelid. He attends school but has trouble concentrating because his eyes hurt when he reads for long periods. I enjoy speaking with the children to learn about their lives and what they like to do. Riyaz plans to be a wholesale business person like his father.
Our surgical team removed tissue from his eyelid and lip and pictures below show the dramatic difference. It is not clear what has caused the tissue growth. Tissue samples were sent out to a local hospital laboratory for examination and I hope we have the pathology results before our mission concludes.
Mohammed, 15, was born with a cleft lip and had surgery when he was younger. The first surgery did not completely repair the defect so he came to see us. Our team of surgeons did their magic and created a fantastic new smile. Mohammed plays soccer and cricket, sometimes wears his hair spiked with gel so it looks like he has a Mohawk and wants to be a doctor. His father told us when seeing his son for the first time after the surgery, "he was always beautiful, and now is even more beautiful."
Our last patient on Saturday was a 28-year-old man also named Mohammed. As he was recovering from the surgery, I noted that a young woman with a little child in tow was sitting next to his bed in the recovery room. She was beaming and so happy. She was Mohammed's wife and it was an honor to see her joy upon seeing her husband's appearance transformed.
We stayed late in the hospital last evening taking care of a 5-month-old who had her cleft lip repaired. She developed respiratory distress, required extra oxygen and developed a fever in the recovery room. We started treatment for pneumonia and transferred her to a nearby hospital with the help of local doctors so she could have closer monitoring overnight. While we were waiting for the ambulance the wind picked up and a storm blew through. It rained like cats and dogs for 60 minutes and the ambulance was delayed getting to us because the roads were flooded.
When we finally left at 10:15 PM, it had stopped pouring but it was quite a scene. Many of the roads in Chittagong are dirt and those that are paved have poor drainage. The roads were filled with water four to five inches deep. This did not seem to bother the Bengalese who continued going about their business as if nothing had happened. Men were driving passengers in bicycle rickshaws despite water covering a good portion of the tires, people walked through the streets with no mind at all to the water obstacles, water flowed from the roads into shops and did not disrupt business, and people sat in restaurants with water way above their ankles. The only difference I could tell from the rain was that it made the traffic and congestion even worse. At one point when we were moving inches at a time a car in front of us decided to turn around in the middle of the road and somehow managed to drive against traffic. We could not believe our eyes.
Flooding is a serious problem in Bangladesh. The country is the size of Utah and has a population of 164 million (half the US population). It is already wall-to-wall people and the population is expected to rise to 220 million by 2050. In the future, large portions of this country will likely be under water as the sea levels rise due to destructive river flooding and cyclones which have been increasing in intensity. As the sea levels rise, salt water mixes with coastal fresh water streams interfering with the growth of crops and fish farming. Loss of land for people to live on and to farm is a big issue as the cities are already overcrowded. Their neighbor India is concerned about immigration and is building a 2,500 mile border security fence.
My experience working with the Bengalese people is that they are resilient and adaptable. I am glad we are here to help some children and their families as now they have one less thing to worry about.