By Lucia Lecuna
Cleft lip and cleft palate are terrible malformations that occur in the first months of the pregnancy, leaving the lips and palate of the baby with a noticeable hole or space.
During the first trimester of the intrauterine life, the palate undergoes the process to close, as well as the descent of the tongue and the fusion of all the tissues. An alteration on them produces cleft lip and cleft palate malformation. Several Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate surgeries are confirmed for next December in a small town in Colombia.
According to Mayo Clinic and the feedback of Dr. Darío Garzón, a Colombian Oral Maxilofacial Surgeon, head of Drawing Alegria (Dibujando Alegría) Colombia, and from the International Centre of Dental Implants, the increase of the likelihood of a baby developing a cleft lip and cleft palate includes: Family history, nutritional factors of the mother, obesity and exposure to certain substances (smoke, intake of alcohol or certain medications). Recent studies reveal that “this malformation is more common in Latin American native and Asian race babies, being the black race babies less likely to develop it. Also, male babies are twice as likely to have cleft lip without cleft palate, being this particular double malformation more common in females (Mayo Clinic)”.
Dr. Garzón, with over 19 years of experience joining several groups of maxillofacial surgeons that visit small poor suburbs towns in Colombia and other Latin American Countries, explains that: if the family knows their history regarding this malformation, they should evaluate the risk and care for the expecting mother, emphasizing on her nutrition during the first three months of the pregnancy, controlling chemical factors that she might be exposed to.
Q: Does this malformation interfere with the nutrition of the newborn?
A: “Nature is incredible and the babies I have seen find a way to adapt their mouth so that he or she can breastfeed. Probably it will not be perfect, but the baby usually gets the nutrients. There are limitations if there is an infection and if the baby is placed in the right way” said Dr. Garzón.
Some complications of cleft lip and cleft palate include: gagging or some breast milk might come out of the nose. There is also the possibility that the baby develops ear infections that could end in ear loss, due to their susceptibility to middle ear infections. Researchers have also seen severe dental problems, as a consequence when the cleft extends on the upper gum, affecting the teeth formation.
The cleft palate also limits the normal process of speech development, because many sounds need the complete palate to be achieved. Finally, there are several social and behavioral problems due to the difference in the appearance and the stress of the medical care.
Q: How can a family prepare for this?
A: “Delivering the diagnose can be an emotional moment that will require time for the family to overcome the denial phase, the hurt and responsibilities, to begin the willingness to find solutions to the problem. The first solution is to ease the visual aesthetic alteration in early age”.
Q: What does it take to perform the surgeries you are doing in Colombia?
A: We gather a volunteer multidisciplinary group of health professionals that includes: Social workers, psychologists, audiology or hearing specialists, speech therapists, dentists, maxilofacial surgeons, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, pediatricians and administrative personnel, among others. We all work as a team in different steps of the procedure, starting with diagnose and helping the family all the way until the baby is adapting to a normal life. Sometimes a patient will require 3-5 surgeries to obtain the proper location of the bone and skin tissues.
Q: Is $250.00 enough to perform each surgery?
A: Yes, that could cover the basic costs, because we have gathered an excellent professional team that joins us as volunteers. The budget might move from $250-$400 depending on the facilities we will need for each visit and the circumstances of the patient.
Ideally these surgeries should be performed in a fully equipped Hospital. But these patients live in poor towns that don’t have a proper Hospital and the procedures are often performed in a Walk-In clinic with more limitations on cleanness and equipment than the ones you can visit in Canada. The families don’t have the financial resources to travel to a large city, so all the volunteers of “Drawing Alegría” travel to get there with all the equipment.
We can perform 10 surgeries a day, and with the $250.00-400.00 we cover the costs of anesthesia and the surgical equipment. The financial support also helps Drawing Alegria with other costs linked to the surgical journey, which include hospitality, meals and transportation for the volunteers.
Q: How many surgeries have you and your team performed so far?
A: I have been working in these field surgeries since I was in training, over 19 years ago, because it gives me a priceless satisfaction. I try to schedule two to three field trips a year, allowing us to achieve 60-100 procedures in each trip. I have worked with three different groups during these 19 years, and we have recorded over 4.500 surgeries in several countries, meaning over 180-300 kids/year.
Sending financial aid from Canada
There are many ways to make these surgeries a complete success and the financial support is a must. You can get in touch with Francisco Garzón, brother of the Colombian Surgeon, who has been living in Canada for over 10 years as a successful Real Estate Broker in the Greater Toronto Area. He and his family have organized many “Drawing Alegría” events, relying on the support from two recognized Non Profit Organizations, such as The Canadian Children’s Organization, as the local Canadian Charity, and Conexion Colombia, the Charity that receives, delivers, and follows up on the financial and legal aspects for Drawing Alegría.
The Canadian Colombian Children’s Organization is a Canadian registered charity with over 15 years gathering and sending financial support to Colombia, seeking to provide good education, basic nutrition and health support, so low income Colombian kids can graduate from high school and begin their careers as apprentices in trades and professions.
Conexión Colombia is a Colombian registered Charity with over 10 years connecting and helping Colombians from all over the world with their country, seeking and financing projects that will improve the life of vulnerable Colombians.
For more information, visit:
http://www.franciscogarzon.com (905) 275 9400
http://www.theccco.org (416)621-6299. 940 The East Mall, Suite 200
Toronto, Ontario, Canada – M9B 6J7.
Charity # 83206 2145 RR001