The screened participants were taken to the Salem-based hospital for treatment which would commence after they are pronounced fit for surgery

“I was refused a bride three times after the families saw this,” says 30-year-old Ramanathan, pointing to a single protruding teeth and moustache cleaved into half. For the coolie labourer, his cleft lip never mattered so much till all his attempts to find a life partner were thwarted. For infant Lavanya, it was not a question of appearance but weight gain that bore the brunt of her cleft palate.

Children and adults at the camp organised by the District Differently Abled Welfare Office and Vinayaka Mission Hospital, face problems ranging from difficulty in swallowing and feeding to slurred speech and societal acceptance. But free surgical correction for cleft palate and cleft lip, sponsored by ‘Smile Train’, an international charity organisation, through Vinayaka Mission Hospital promised to bring the smiles back where they belonged.

The screened participants were taken to the Salem-based hospital for treatment which would commence after they are pronounced fit for surgery, said S.Prabhakaran , paediatric surgeon, Vinayaka Mission Hospital.

Cleft lip and palate are the most commonly occurring birth defects, next to congenital cardiac conditions. “While a simple cleft lip can be resolved with a single surgery, some children may require three to five corrective procedures, including correction of the nasal structure, depending on the severity of the defect,” he explained.

Nutritional deficiency–major cause

The birth defects are attributed to the genetic disorders, marriage between close relatives and nutritional deficiency, a reason why the condition is common in poverty struck families. The ideal period for correction of cleft lip is three to six months while palate correction is 12 to 18 months for palate.

The child must weigh at least 5 kg before surgery is undertaken, said Dr.Prabakaran. While surgical correction is sponsored by Smile Train, accommodation, food and medicines are provided by the hospital. Patients also get an incentive to compensate their period of stay away from work apart from educational scholarships. The surgery in a private hospital may cost anywhere around Rs.40,000.

The number of participants in the annual camp has come down this year, possibly due to these procedures being covered under the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme. From 70 patients in 2010, the number has reduced to 17 today. Going by the numbers, revision of corrected lip and nose were the norm.

Revision may be required when a surgery is performed despite tissues being inadequate for proper correction. V.P.Dhandapani, corporation commissioner, inaugurated the camp. Collector Jayashree Muralidharan and R.Shyamala, District Differently Abled Welfare Officer, spoke.