16 ni-Vanuatu benefited from life changing surgical operations last week carried out by a visiting Australian-funded Interplast plastic and reconstructive surgical team.
Dr. Samuel Kemual, a general surgeon at the Vila Central Hospital, attached with the Interplast plastic and reconstructive surgical team that visits Vanuatu annually under the Pacific Islands Project under DFAT said this year, the team stayed a week, from Monday to Friday last week working on patients that were already lined up for operations.
Dr. Kemuel related the story of 9-year old James (not real name) from Malekula who was born with a cleft lip and a cleft palet, which meant that he had a hole on his upper lip that passed through his teeth and ended up on the roof of his mouth.
“With such a hole, from when they were small, children had problems with breastfeeding and eating. In addition, their teeth don’t grow properly, and they had problem with breathing. Sometimes, when they eat, food can come out through their nose.
“When they grow and start talking, they had problems with their speech, because they cannot sound the words properly, as you need the full mouth and tongue to be able to sound words properly.
“Adding to this for children with such condition is the stigma surrounding them with their type of situation,” Dr. Kemuel said.
He added that in 2013, James came to Port Vila for the first time and the Interplast team fixed and shut the hole on his upper lip. Then they waited one or two years and then closed the hole in his mouth.
“With the operations done so far, James, according to his mother when they came to the clinic on Friday before the operations started on Monday last week, he was much, much better. He played well with other children, and the other children accepted him, like in a normal life. He sounded words properly and that now when he spoke he sounded the words clearly and they understood the words. Even though he is not 100 per cent perfect, but he can fit into the society. He can communicate well, which is important for him.
“Another thing with James is they are starting to find him a school to attend. The problems with his mouth could also affect his hearing, because the mouth and ears connect through the ustation tube. But with James, so far, he’s been good because we repaired his lips and then we repaired his mouth. So, now he can fit into the society basically.
“It’s a success story because with the team visiting and me here, we have been working together to achieve such good outcomes for children. Not only children, this week about 25 to 30 per cent of the patients operated on were adults – burn victims, those with scars, included, we’ve been able to help them to walk or straighten their hands a little,” Dr. Kemuel added.
Jame’s story is not an isolated one, he said adding that there’ve been some who have come and the work of the Interplast plastic and reconstruction surgical team have help them and they have returned home and fitted back into their societies, “and that’s a lot of kids since the program started”.