The surgeon is obviously touched by these children as he thumbs through piles of photos and slides. They are outcasts. Some have been abandoned. Others have been killed as sacrifices. In third world countries, children with facial deformities may get “less than human” treatment, says Anthony Farole, DMD, Associate Professor at Jefferson Medical College and Associate Director of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
Dr. Farole’s concern led him to Healing the Children, a Connecticut-based organization that provides medical care to children in developing nations. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon has taken three 10-day trips to South America to donate his services to children with cleft lip and palate. Jefferson’s chief resident of oral and maxillofacial surgery accompanies him.
Cleft lip or palate is characterized by a separation between the sides of the mouth, often requiring more than one surgery to correct. These deformities occur at far higher rates in third world countries due to genetic inbreeding, poor prenatal nutrition and environmental pollutants, Dr. Farole speculates. Besides the physical shunning, patients have difficulty eating and speaking, and are prone to nasal and ear infections.
Many families travel great distances to the villages in Guatemala and Columbia where the medical team is based. “We’ll screen 300 children and treat 120 of the most severe cases,” says Dr. Farole, describing 12 to 14 hour days for which no one gets paid. The medical team must supply their own instrumentation, involving weeks of calls to surgical supply companies for donations. “It’s absolutely exhausting … a labor of love.
“As soon as the deformities are fixed, the children become members of society and are valued again. From the parents, there are tears of gratitude and big smiles. It’s our privilege to do this and we get thanked besides. I’ll be doing this every year as long as I’m walking.”