Smile Train programs, partners, and patients have been deeply affected by COVID-19. Where it is safe to do so, Smile Train’s local partners are continuing to provide cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care. Where surgeries are postponed, partners are finding creative ways to continue to support children with clefts and their families — and many partners are fighting on the frontlines of COVID-19.
In honor of fifth annual World Health Worker Week, we celebrate and thank the heroic health workers who are navigating a world changed by COVID-19 — and continuing to serve the most vulnerable patients in their communities.
Below are just a few perspectives from these brave Smile Train partners written in their own words:
Dr. Daniela Tanikawa, Smile Train Partner Surgeon, Brazil
Our hospital is the reference center for patients with cleft lip and palate in São Paulo. In Brazil, the most compromised area by COVID-19 is São Paulo. However, in our hospital, which is an exclusive pediatric institution, there is only 1 child infected with COVID-19. Due to safety issues, our government has cancelled all non-emergency surgeries and appointments since March 23. Our intensive care unit has been prepared to receive pediatric patients with COVID-19, but what we have perceived throughout the past week is that the majority of hospitalized children are infected with other viruses, whereas some of our healthcare professionals (especially those from the emergency department) have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Initial appointments are very important for babies with cleft lip and palate (due to feeding issues, installation of presurgical orthopedics, surgical treatment information, and psychological support for parents), and thus, we have decided to keep these appointments as long as it is safe to do so. Once a week, the multidisciplinary team evaluates all primary cases, as well as pregnant women whose babies are to have clefts…The clinic is prepared with masks for patients with respiratory symptoms, alcohol gel, and personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals.
Surgical procedures have been cancelled and despite the families’ anxiety, the most important thing is that surgeries could be performed in safe conditions for both patients and parents. The pandemic continues to be out of control, which means that we need to be careful and wait. We continue to keep up with some of the children during this pre-surgical period. If the situation gets any worse, we may try telemedicine, but for now, it is best to stay at home.
Dr. Gene Tiongco, Smile Train Partner Plastic Surgeon and Team Empower Athlete, Philippines
“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our hospital. All our cleft surgeries will be delayed since most of the medical workforce will be dedicated to handling the COVID-19 crisis.
I am working in any capacity I can as a doctor, and am relegating my Plastic Surgeon role for now. I am in the ER and taking histories of COVID PUIs (Patients Under Investigation) and positive patients via telemedicine.
For Smile Train patients waiting for surgery — stay positive and be patient. Stay at home to decrease risk of contamination. While at home, make letters of support and encouragement to the front liners and share it on social media to uplift the spirits of the front-liners. Soon, when this is over, we will ALL be smiling again.”
Kanhaiya Kumar, Outreach Worker, India
“Kanhaiya Kumar is an outreach worker with Smile Train’s partner Sant Parmanand Hospital in New Delhi. An average day sees him traveling all over the city from early morning till past sundown, contacting and counseling patients and their families. He also facilitates their OPD (outpatient department) treatments and surgery dates, and their travel to and from the hospital. His phone rings from the morning till after dinner, with patients and their families calling with questions and asking for advice.
Since India went into lockdown due to COVID-19, Kanhaiya has been at home. While this has given him time to spend with his seven-month-old son, his mind is with his patients. He has been counseling patient families on cleft care and the treatment pathway, feeding techniques, basic dental care and psychosocial support in most cases. Some of his patients underwent surgery recently, and many had speech therapy sessions scheduled during these days. He has been calling their families, reassuring them that their treatment will resume soon.
“My family and I put on masks whenever we are around our young child as a preventative measure, but the phone calls give me a reason to take it off,” Kanhaiya said. “We all must do our bit by staying at home, but my work is not stopping. I must connect with my patients and their families every day. I cannot wait to get back out in the field and serve our patients as soon as it is safe to venture out.”
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