Around the world, COVID-19 has forced many hospitals to postpone scheduled procedures as they care for an influx of COVID-19 patients and seek to halt further spread of the virus. While these delays are necessary for the safety of all patients, they also mean that some of the most vulnerable patients, like those with clefts, face increased challenges.
This is the case in Peru, where COVID-19 has brought life to a standstill. When Smile Train partner Misión Caritas Felices (MCF) was forced to postpone cleft surgeries and in-person comprehensive cleft care, they knew that they had the tools and expertise to ensure that their patients could continue to receive essential care.
As part of their comprehensive cleft care, MCF offers an annual parents’ workshop that allows families of children with clefts to learn more about the various challenges their child might face and how they can support their child through all aspects of cleft care. Parents attend these sessions brimming with questions and eager to learn, and as their child’s first and most important teacher, they are instrumental in their child’s success. For MCF, cancelling the workshop was not an option.
“When we realized that the workshop would not be possible this year, we decided to move it online.” says Katherine Sandoval Bravo, Program Coordinator for MCF. “We invited our volunteer specialists to conduct it through our official fan Facebook page, one specialty per day, and they agreed.”
These Facebook Live sessions cover a wide range of cleft care topics, including nutrition, speech therapy, psychology, and orthodontia. Specialists also discuss more technical topics like plastic surgery, anesthesia, and ENT, addressing parents’ most urgent questions.
While the information shared in these sessions is important, equally important is the sense of security the sessions provide to parents, who are comforted to know that, even in isolation, there is still someone standing by their side.
“We took this opportunity to explain that we are not going to stop helping patients or parents.” says Katherine. “We urge them to keep calm and to not become desperate for surgery, because the delay is for their own safety. We are supporting them, from our homes to their homes, so they know they will not be forgotten by our organization. And, of course, they know that Smile Train is supporting us to continue helping them.”
Among the attendees is Karina, whose son Leandro had his cleft palate surgery delayed by COVID-19. She has now attended several sessions to ask questions about her son. “The sessions really support us, parents of cleft lip and palate children, and clear our doubts…I want Misión Caritas Felices to continue doing these workshops because it helps all parents so much! I share these live sessions in groups with parents of cleft children…there are many new parents have questions and these workshops can help them rest easy.”
MCF also utilizes this platform to continue providing comprehensive cleft care, including speech therapy, to patients. Many of the attendees of the virtual speech therapy sessions are patients who would ordinarily be attending in-person sessions — the MCF staff is dedicated to ensuring that these patients do not fall behind during the pandemic.
One of these patients is Liam, a 7-year-old who has received two cleft surgeries supported by Smile Train and now has regular online sessions with speech therapist Evelyn Caserres-Nano.
The clinic has also been gratified to see that families who would not usually be able to visit the treatment center in person have now been able to sign their children up for online evaluation — a confirmation that a strong, coordinated telemedicine strategy truly can bring care to the most vulnerable.
“People from the farthest and poorest places have registered to be evaluated. Patients from Amazonas, Huancavelica, Cerro de Pasco, Huancayo, Tumbes and other cities,” says Katherine. She is impressed by the enthusiasm of the patients — and the whole team at MCF matches the patients’ dedication with their own willingness to go the extra mile for patients and families. This is only the beginning of their work to ensure no patient is left behind.
Dianne Erquiaga, Smile Train Program Director for South America, praises how effectively MCF has worked to provide such high-quality care remotely. “Smile Train is proud to support partners like MCF. The pandemic has forced so many children with clefts to wait for care, and many of them cannot wait — but thanks to MCF’s innovation and dedication, patients and families know that someone is always there to help.”
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