In India, we provide over 3,000 surgeries to children with cleft lip and palate every year. Our goal is to provide the children with the most comprehensive care possible. With the additional therapies that are often necessary, such as orthodontics or speech therapy, treatment can take years. We track all treatments through our patient database so that we can prove the proper use of our donors’ funds. But the photos uploaded to document the treatments also let us watch the children grow up. Dharati is a patient from the early days of our work, whom we were privileged to follow for a long time and who has remained in our memories and hearts.
Dharati’s family lived in the poorest conditions. As landless farmers they could not afford the treatment of their daughter. Dharati had to live with the health and social consequences of her untreated cleft for years. It was only when Dharati was already five years old that her parents noticed a poster at a milk distribution point: Free surgery for children with cleft lip! What a lucky coincidence!
Shortly after, Dharati received her first surgery at our cleft center in Ahmedabad. The surgery went very well, and her lip and palate healed quickly. However, when the attending surgeon visited Dharati at home some time later for a check-up, he noticed that the girl always kept her lips pressed together when smiling…
Little Dharati before the operation. In addition to the lip, the cleft visibly affects the bone of the upper jaw. Cleft lip surgery can be performed as early as after the third month of life. The child can then drink normally and develops much better as a result. Before the operation of the cleft, the parents have to feed the children with a special technique, which many cannot do without help. As a result, the child is malnourished and weakened, grows more slowly, and is susceptible to disease. Without treatment, many cleft children tragically and unnecessarily die as babies or toddlers. We work every day to educate all families, even in remote areas, about cleft lip and palate and its management and treatment options so that children can quickly lead normal lives.
After the first operation, much has already changed for the better for Dharati: She is no longer visibly different and is happy playing outside with her friends. But she is still a little ashamed of the hole in her jaw and the large gap between her teeth.
However, our surgeon is able to reassure her: she is now old enough for what is known as bone grafting. This is a follow-up treatment that builds on the basic lip and palate closure operations. In a bone grafting procedure, the patient’s own bone material is used to fill the gap in the jaw. After that, missing teeth can be inserted. The result is a further improvement in the treatment outcome for patients.
Today, Dharati likes to show her big smile to everyone around her. She no longer has the feeling that she wants to hide. Many children with cleft lip like Dharati are still waiting for their operation. We are fighting to help each single one of them.