Mr Riaz and the UK team have just returned from another successful free surgery cleft camp at the purpose-built Cleft Hospital in Gujrat Pakistan. Mr Riaz has been visiting Gujrat twice a year every year to support these camps since 2004, when he returned to Hull as a consultant surgeon, and heard about the work of OPSA (Overseas Plastic Surgery Appeal). He had an interest in such work, and wanted to offer his skills to help under-privileged people who would have no recourse to such treatment otherwise.
This year he ‘recruited’ Mr Chris Theopold – the Cleft Surgeon for Ireland, who is based in Dublin, and serves the entire area, to assist with the camp. He met Mr Theopold at a BAAPS/BAPRAS meeting, who expressed an interest in also sharing his skills. Chris had worked previously in Nepal and Ethiopia doing similar projects, so was not completely unfamiliar with delivering such services in a third world country.
Along with Dr Yasser, one of the Plastic Surgeons at the Cleft Hospital, and Dr Mushahid Aslam collectively across 2 operating theatres and 8 days, a total of 86 patients received surgical treatment. Mr Riaz and Mr Theopold elected to do the much more complex cases, many of which took in excess of 3 hours per case – not an unusual situation. It is necessary to make full use of their expertise for the brief time they are there, leaving the less challenging cases to those more comfortable with such surgery. A routine day at the hospital began about 9am with a ward round, to visit the patients who had had surgery the previous day, and quickly review the patients who were scheduled to have surgery that day, these patients having already been seen the previous evening by the surgeons and anaesthetists. Between Mr Riaz and Mr Theopold they would ‘share’ the Outpatient Clinic commitment, reviewing patients who had had surgery previously, those who may need further treatment, and of course, the next cohort of new patients to schedule for the next camp. Surgery took place throughout the day up until 9.30pm; a break for a late dinner, then back to the hospital for a final check on the day’s post-op patients before retiring for the night.
The entire UK team stayed in the accommodation at the hospital so that in the event of an emergency they were on-hand to help without delay. Fortunately there were no such problems during this camp, at least not for the surgeons. The anaesthetists had their share of problems because many of the little patients have underlying conditions which are not always apparent before surgery.
This year Mr Riaz was joined by Allison Coggan, a local health reporter, who had expressed an interest in helping the charity in whatever way she could. She ‘shadowed’ Mr Riaz during her time there so that she could paint a full picture of the patient’s journey. So, she saw and interviewed patients in the Outpatient Clinic and on the Ward prior to surgery, getting their stories, most of which are heart-wrenching, observed some of the more complex procedures in theatre then wrote their stories up and published them, in a bid to raise awareness for the hospital and the work of the charity. She was extremely busy the entire duration of her stay, and was overwhelmed by all the generosity of the Pakistani people she came into contact with, from our hosts and their family to the poorest of people.
The Cleft Hospital continues to grow its services, always striving to provide the level of care which patients with such conditions in the UK can expect to receive by virtue of their birthright. There is still a long way to go, but every year we see improvements and a greater integration of services supporting the cleft service.
The good news is, Mr Theopold is now a ‘convert’! He has offered his services on an annual basis, continuing to support Mr Riaz,OPSA and the Cleft Hospital until such time as the hospital is fully-sustainable with local medical and nursing staff. So with Mr Chris Hill, Cleft Surgeon in Northern Ireland also continuing to help every year, it is truly an Irish contingency, as Mr Riaz did much of his plastic surgery training in Ireland also!
We now work towards the next camp in October, when we expect Kate Adie, BBC Overseas broadcaster and journalist to observe and report on the work of the two charities.
Help the team continue their live changing work, putting smiles back on the faces of children.