In the work of medical missions there are certain opportunities that we are invited into where one is able to transform someone’s life in a very short period of time. Cleft surgeries are one of those opportunities.
Last week, Kibuye finished up two weeks of “cleft camp”, a time dedicated to operating on kids (and sometimes adults) with cleft malformations. The camp was supported by Smile Train, who flew the world’s greatest cleft surgeon (at least we think he is the greatest), Drew Huang to Kibuye to work with Jason (the world's most outstanding medical missionary), who himself is getting certified to become a Smile Train surgeon. I flew down from France to help with anesthesia care and we were also joined by a wonderful OR nurse from Samaritan’s Purse, who helped Jason and Drew and brought some fabulous equipment with her.
In two weeks we operated on 21 children with cleft lips, palates and one cleft eye (something I had never seen before). We also operated on one adult with a cleft lip, one of our Kibuye construction workers. We had several others scheduled for surgery who unfortunately had to be delayed because they were too malnourished to make it through surgery, or they had another infection (such as malaria).
It was so exciting to be a part of these life changing surgeries, and as with any new experience in Africa, I continue to learn through these experiences. As an example:
On one of our first days operating, at the end of the surgery, I carried the child to our recovery area and gently laid him down on one of our three beds. The mother sat on another bed, with a look of terror on her face. Given my lack of Kirundi, I could not ask her what was wrong, but quickly it dawned on me …. if she has never seen someone recover from anesthesia, she might not realize that it was normal for her child to still be asleep. In fact, she had assumed that I was carrying her DEAD child back to her. I quickly found a Burundian medical student and asked them to explain that the surgery had gone very well and that her child was alive and would wake up slowly over the next hour or two. As soon as this was explained to her, her face transformed as a huge smile broke out.
From that time on, as soon as returning a patient to recovery, I asked for a translator to assure the parents that all had gone as planned and that their children were very much alive and well.
Below are some photos of our camp.