Though the COVID-19 pandemic forced many Smile Train partner hospitals to temporarily suspend cleft surgeries in March 2020, the staff at our partner Smile Home Trust in Sindh Province, Pakistan used these trying circumstances to create an opportunity.
Most of the interior areas of Sindh Province hadn’t yet been hit by COVID-19, but as home to some of the country’s poorest people, including millions living in overcrowded areas already struggling to eat and stay healthy, Smile Home Trust knew that once the virus arrived, the impact could be devastating — unless they took swift action.
So, as team members of Smile Home Trust went around neighborhoods and villages asking residents if they knew anyone with a cleft, they also taught the vital importance of hand washing and social distancing and distributed free food, surgical masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to everyone they met.
The community outreach worked, and cleft patients arrived at Smile Home Trust. To ensure everyone’s safety, patients received additional pre-surgery screenings looking for any symptoms of ill-health and as an added precaution, patients never had more than one attendant in the room with them at a time.
The patients didn’t mind the additional safety measures as they were no less surreal than any other aspect of the experience. “They couldn’t believe we would offer free cleft surgery — they thought there must be a catch,” said Smile Home Trust’s chief surgeon, Dr. Irfan Ishaq. But after surgery, when the patients emerged from the hospital with free medicine, COVID-19 safety gear, and, best of all, radiant new smiles, these same families burst into tears, heaping blessings upon the local medical team and Smile Train’s donors.
Though his team was able to provide life-changing cleft treatment to nearly 200 people in March, Dr. Irfan has one patient he will remember for the rest of his life: 70 year-old Pyari. Pyari shared that she’d been disowned by her parents and had struggled to find happiness her entire life. After surgery, she did not recognize the face smiling back at her in the mirror. It wasn’t until she actually touched her face with her own fingers that she allowed herself to believe it. She kissed Dr. Irfan’s hands and cried that now she can finally live out her life in peace.
Her story is just one of hundreds Smile Train’s unique model has made possible during this pandemic. Because we invest in local healthcare workers and medical infrastructure, our partners can still provide safe, high-quality cleft care everywhere it is safe to do so. Where cleft treatment isn’t currently possible, many of our partners are on the frontlines fighting this disease in their own communities, looking forward to the day they can safely perform cleft treatments again. Once that day comes, Smile Train will be there for them with all the support, equipment, and funding they need to keep saving lives and bringing smiles to those in desperate need.
A baby with a cleft is born every 3 minutes, even during a pandemic. Please donate now.