A group of excellent plastic surgeons and other specialists from India began this foundation years ago, but now Physicians from many different countries volunteer to join them and donate their time and skills to help the poor. They come to MaeSot the first Sunday of every November to do free transformation surgeries on any and all the poor people of Myanmar, Thailand and beyond. Several NGO groups are merged into a foundation called: “Operation Smile!” It is a huge endeavor, costing millions of dollars! Volunteers from Bangkok, United Nations, America and Thailand, and all over the world come to participate, making it a beautiful time for all the patients that come crowding into the host medical facility. This year it was at the Ram MaeSot General Hospital. They tell us that there were over 175 surgeries already scheduled and the day was not over yet!
Cleft Palate repair comprises most of the surgeries, but so many anomalies are taken care of like burn contractors, extra fingers or toes removed, growths and lumps excised, and grotesque birth defects corrected to name a few!
The day before this event we set out to find the patients that needed help. We jumped on the motorbike and took off to 2 different villages in opposite directions. We totaled over 3 hours on that bike, but the day was beautiful! The first home we entered was in a village called ClerGaChaTah. We had never stepped foot in this place before, and it took several inquiries from passers-by to retrieve directions. PaJaDa, age 29, has a boney deformation on and around his nose, stopping him from ever breathing through his nose. His right eye is blind.
Last year this young man came into our clinic and we felt so sorry for him that we determined to find him and see if he’d be willing to go to Operation Smile this year.
So here is PaJaDa’s sad history. His mother had died in childbirth. When he was one year old, small bumps appeared on his nose which developed into infections. For days pus drained from these bumps which had grown quite large. Finally the infection spread to his eye, causing blindness, and disfiguring his nose. Much more time went by and that eye was smelling really bad. He didn’t have parents to take care of him and they lived in this village far away from medical help. The people were all poor and ignorant, but somehow when he was 10 years old someone took him to the hospital where the rotten eye was removed, and the orbit filled with some yellow material.
He and his wife cooked us some rice and chilies to eat, and his wife gave me a beautiful Karen bag that she had woven. You won’t find sweeter, kinder, more appreciative people anywhere!
PaJaDa was eager to come with us to Operation Smile and would meet us early the next morning.
Our next patient is Bri’s wife, MeePo, in MooDooKey village. She has had a growth on the side of her neck for 7 years, but now it is a little larger and beginning to hurt. I was worried when I examined it because it was a vessel, and seemed to be wrapped around the carotid artery, but what did I know about this type of thing? She agreed to go also, so early the next morning we took off with our 2 precious patients, praying that they would receive the care they needed.
Operation Smile is amazing. The crowd was so great that I wondered where to take my patients to begin the process.
Because we had travelled so far, we were late to start. However don’t worry, never fear! There are helpers everywhere. They were all smiling and so happy to assist the people with anything. You could never loose your way. Different color ‘smile’ T-shirts were all over the place, showing people where to go and ushering them to the right places. There was registration, vital signs, photographs and lots of waiting! The patients all were seated, but we stood up all day! During the waiting periods, volunteer students came around with all sorts of toys, blowing bubbles, coloring books, stuffed animals, balls and dolls.
They freely gave these things to the children and babies. They brought tray after tray of different snacks, cookies, muffins, fruit, drinks, candy, you name it! Later complete dinner bowels were given to anyone and everyone! It was amazing. Upon checking out, they give gifts of toys for children, and pillows for adults along with money according to how far they had to travel to get there. MeePo got 800 THB ($26), and PaJaDa 700 THB ($23)
When our people were checked by the plastic surgeons, MeePo was told she needed to go to a bigger hospital and get an MRI etc. The vessel was large and complicated and could not be done in their time frame. It is dangerous to leave alone, but also dangerous to remove the doctor said. She does not want to do anything else about it. She is thankful because during that day she saw so many people with worse problems than hers. Some of the children and adults really looked terrible. (Ears all distorted and protruding out of the cheek! A huge mass on a child’s nose that protruded 3 inches, hanging down and covering the mouth! A man only in his late 30’s so badly burned from an explosion 2 years ago that his face and head has been melted down to his chest. His arms are contracted and the burn scars cover his entire upper body. He is unable to speak).
PaJaDa could not be done there either because he needed extensive work done with more than one surgery. He needs to go to ChiangMai. However, they will pay for all his work! We got referral papers for both our patients. At the first of the year we will take PaJaDa to ChiangMai and take care of him whatever it takes! You will hear more about him.