It Takes A Team For Cleft Palette Children

It also takes many years of continued care, therapy, and follow up operations
BY: JIM LOCHKER

Last week the Smiles International Foundation continued its mission to give Los Cabos children affiliated with cleft and craniofacial deformities a chance at a happy normal life. The Smiles International Foundation is an international nonprofit founded by Dr. Jeffrey Moses. They organize and provide no cost surgical care for underprivileged children here and in the U.S.A.

Cleft lip and cleft pallet deformities are the fourth most common birth defect in the U.S. These are oral malformations that occur very early in pregnancy. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not join properly.

Cleft birth defects are a major problem in developing countries where more than one million children are suffering with un-repaired clefts. Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft, and one in 10 of those children will die before their first birthday. The children who survive are often unable to eat, speak, smile, socialize, they are often not allowed to attend school, and have difficulty obtaining and keeping a job. These children are often condemned to lives of neglect, prejudice, and isolation. Some newborns are killed or abandoned right after birth. In Uganda, a baby born with a cleft is named “Ajok” which means, “cursed by God.” It must be tough going through life with a name like that. Maybe worse than a boy named Sue.

docs.jpg

The Cabo Smiles program is part of the Smiles International Foundation, gathering together cranial-facial specialists from both sides of the borders, teamed with strong local community support organized by the Los Cabos Rotary. They organize one-week surgical clinics by volunteer U.S. doctors and nurses. Since 2012, the Cabo Smiles program has been held two times a year, with volunteer doctors and nurses flying to Cabo from across the U.S. They first hold screenings at the second floor of the Puerto Paraiso Mall to determine which children are most in need  These screenings are followed by a grueling schedule for the next week of operating on children to repair facial deformities in young children at the poverty level.

Last month, a team of volunteer nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons led by Dr. Ron Aronovich and local Los Cabos Rotarians saw about 50 to 60 patients in the screening clinic held at Puerto Paraiso. They operated on 13 patients at the Especialidades hospital in Cabo and performed about 30 to 35 procedures including four primary lips, several primary palates, bone grafts, and some rhinoplasties.  Rotarian Dr. Alejandro Avalos, who donates the use of his hospital, owns Especialidades. Most of the volunteer medical team returns to the Cabo Smiles program year after year, as they feel it is important to maintain relationships with the children, their families, and to ensure the long-term continuity of care.

“Many people in the public don’t realize the children afflicted with facial cleft deformities are not fixed with more than just closure of the lip and actually require up to seven surgeries in order to restore them to full function in order to be able to eat, speak, hear, and smile,” said Moses. “The cleft lip is repaired around 10 weeks of age and the palate repaired at around age one. Then the ears are evaluated for the ability to clear the ears, (popping pressure), and if needed, ear tubes are placed to prevent permanent deafness. The bone in the upper jaw is grafted from the hip at around age six in order to allow teeth to come in properly, and the nose is corrected to allow breathing properly. Braces are placed to prepare the bite for facial bone alignment surgery in the early teens and this surgery is performed mid-teens to allow the facial form and the chewing function to become fully functional.” Moses’ goal is medical support throughout all of the stages for each child as well as to provide them with speech therapy, psychological counseling on self-esteem, and a general head start back into a healthy, happy life.

Because consistent care is critical, the Cabo Smiles program works with local doctors to provide follow-up care. Smiles International Foundation also provides the local specialty medical professionals on-site clinical education in new and/or complex procedures and treatments. The entire program is volunteer-based, so the teams from the U.S. and the local doctors pay their own expenses for travel, and use vacation or unpaid days to make themselves available.

The Cabos Smiles Program is funded through a group effort with much of the coordination driven by the Los Cabos Rotary Club which hosts the program. They hold fundraisers during the year and partner with local fishing tournaments like the Tuna Jackpot as well as cycling events. They also collaborate with major sponsors and local organizations such as the Solmar Foundation which provides accommodations for the entire Cabo Smiles team twice each year. However, they have been having a little bit of difficulty finding the $15,000 that is needed annually to sustain our local Cabo Smiles program. They also need additional local volunteer support from trained professionals such as speech therapists, hearing specialists, and dentists because after the surgery, the children have to learn how to speak correctly and many have issues with hearing, low self-esteem, sleep apnea, and they all need dental care. All donated money goes straight to the children. For more information about the Cabo Smiles program or to donate, visit the Smiles International Foundation website www.smilesinternationalfoundation.org and then select the “Smiles of Cabo” program. For information on how you can volunteer locally to support Cabo Smiles, contact the Los Cabos Rotary Club via their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/loscabosrotaryclub/.