By Rtn Myrna Valle
The Rotary Club of Sta. Rosa Centro staged yet another successful project together with Helping Children Smile, Inc. or HCSI, an NGO based in Queensland, Australia that stages an annual mission in different places of the Philippines to provide free cleft lip and palate operation for indigent children with the said condition. The mission, entitled “Balik Ngiti”, is now on its 19th year, and the 2nd to be held in Sta. Rosa City. The first one was done in 2008 under then RCSRC president PP Maya Padiernos.
Slated from February 22 to March 3, Balik Ngiti 2015 was able to gather 47 potential patients, of whom 35 were qualified to undergo surgery for cleft lip, cleft palate, and in some cases, both cleft lip and palate, bringing the total number of procedures to 38. The mission was held at Sta. Rosa City Community Hospital, and the daily transportation of the team was generously provided by Toyota Motors Philippines, Inc.
HCSI team surgeons Dr. Shiby Ninan, Dr. Nitin Sharma and anesthetists Dr. Damian Castanelli and Dr. Kim Fuller shed some light on the crux of their mission to help children smile.
Cleft lip and/or palate are a condition that occurs during the early stages of pregnancy when the lip and/or the roof of the mouth are supposed to join together but does not. Genetics may have something to do with it, but most of the time it just happens. There is simply nothing one can do to stop it or to make it happen, thus eliminating old wives’ tales, ex. the mother slipping and falling during pregnancy.
While cleft lip cases could be corrected as early as 6 months of age, cleft palate patients are advised to wait until the age of one year. In both cases, it is preferable that the surgery be done before 7 years of age. The operation becomes more difficult as the patients get older because like an inflated balloon, the tissues will have more “stretch”, thus making the procedure more complicated; and for cleft palate cases, there is even a possibility that the bridged gap will break open again. In addition, improvement in speech is likely to be minimal, because the brain has already “learned” the speech pattern with the cleft, and it will require extensive speech therapy to work on normalizing the speech. Visual improvement also suffers as the patient ages; and while the gaps will be removed, it may be difficult to achieve a completely normal appearance.
The procedures are relatively simple and have lower risks; however, a patient could still have allergies (in particular to anesthetics), health conditions and ailments that could make the operation perilous. This is why patient screening is very important, and the team takes extra care in choosing the patients that they take in. The length of time for both the surgery and recovery differs; shorter for cleft lip and longer for cleft palates. Patients with both conditions require a longer period to heal and will likely encounter more pain during recovery.
HCSI nurses have an equally important role in the mission. There are three kinds of nurses that assist the doctors during the operation: the scrub nurse who assists the surgeons with the instruments, the scout nurse (or sometimes called circulating nurse) who gets everything ready and on hand, and the anesthetic nurse who assists the anesthetist. After the operation, the patient is transferred to recovery, where the recovery nurse will observe and watch out for complications, and if there are any, call the attention of the doctors. If the patient is without any problem, he or she will be moved to the ward, where the ward nurse will continue to monitor the patient.
February 22nd was the first day of the mission and was fully dedicated to screening patients. After a short set-up time, the patients came one after the other. Centro ladies were at hand, serving as runners and interpreters for the team. After a full day, about 40 patients were screened. The succeeding days were dedicated to the surgeries, with at least two assigned Officers of the Day from RC Sta. Rosa Centro, whose job was to see to it that the very busy doctors and nurses were all provided with enough food, water and other supplies, and to assist the patients when they go through the admission process of the hospital. More importantly, the Centro Ladies rendered moral support to the parents and guardians who were probably more nervous than the children themselves.
In keeping with Centro tradition, the HCSI delegation was accorded a Welcome Dinner at the El Cielito Inn last February 22 and a Send-Off Party on March 3rd at the 345th Residences in Alabang. The group also took time for some fun. Together with Centro representatives, the group mounted horses to reach the crater of Taal Volcano in Batangas (some of them hiked it out though), and swam at the cool and clear natural spring waters of Hidden Valley Resort in Alaminos, Laguna.
The project was indeed very fruitful and rewarding. For HCSI, they may not have had the quantity in this year’s mission, but they definitely had the quality, as some of their cases were quite difficult and complicated. For Centro, it was the opportunity to render service to the community. For both organizations, it was the pleasure of working with friends, some from 2008 and many new ones; the forging of relationships that will surely go on even beyond the missions. As Best Class President Arlene B. Arcillas aptly put it in her speech during the send-off party, “Sta. Rosa City is your home and you are welcome here anytime. We will not say goodbye to you, but rather, see you again soon!”