By participating in a voluntary medical delegation to India, two Rambam doctors put broad smiles on the faces of more than 200 patients with congenital facial defects. Sponsored by the organization Operation Smile, the delegation provided corrective surgery to people of different ages who had been born with cleft lip or cleft palate. The operations relieved patients of both physical limitations and social stigma
Writer: Roberta Neiger, ProText
At the end of December Dr Itzhak Ramon, a senior physician in the Department of Plastic Surgery and Dr Zach Sharony, who is completing his specialization in plastic surgery, returned from a medical mission to Assam in northeast India. Their delegation was sponsored by the international charity organization, Operation Smile, which is devoted to correcting congenital facial defects, like cleft lip and cleft palate, in places where medical help is limited.
R-L Dr Zach Sharony, a delegation member, and Dr Itzhak Ramon take out comma with a local patient Photo credit: RHC.
For ten days, more than 50 medical personnel from around the world treated more than 200 patients ranging in age from six months to the mid-forties. The multi-disciplinary team included plastic surgeons, dentists, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses, and speech therapists.
According to Dr Ramon, this was a mission in the truest sense of the word. “These operations improve the health and quality of life for many patients who would otherwise be unable to attain or pay for such treatment,” he says. Likewise, the team benefits from a sense of great satisfaction, and from coping with unusual medical situations. “I learned a great deal in India – all the doctors share their knowledge and everyone learns from everyone else,” says the plastic surgeon.
Dr Ramon first went on an Operation Smile mission in the Philippines over 10 years ago. “The
experiences I had there as a young surgeon are still very much alive for me,” says Dr Ramon. “This time I was able to participate as an experienced doctor.”
Upon their arrival to India, the Rambam doctors met their colleagues and set out together for the city of Guwahati in Assam. “When we arrived at the local hospital, hundreds of people were already waiting,” recalls Dr Ramon. “There are not enough surgeons or resources there to perform these operations, so Operation Smile decided to send four medical missions there yearly,” says Dr Ramon. Working in 10 operation rooms simultaneously, the team operated daily on five patients in each room.
“You derive immediate reward from performing these operations,” says Dr Ramon. “Already at the end of the procedure, patients can see results and their smiles give us tremendous motivation.”
Dr Ramon is glad to report that congenital facial defects are rare in Israel, and when children with such deformities are born here, surgery is usually performed during their first year of life. “In many countries, these deformities are very widespread. Due to lack of resources, people are forced to live with them all their lives,” he says.
A trip to India is always a transformative experience, and Dr Ramon also returned with a fresh perspective: “Treating these patients allows the doctor to see everyday reality differently. I was delighted to be able to help, but above all, I felt proud of our own health system, which provides proper treatment to everyone who needs it.”