Part 1 – 2011
The beginning of the new year brought great happiness to one very poor family in Bangladesh. Sabbir, a four year old little boy who became our first burn patient received the last part of his treatment financed by BanglaCymru. When Sabbir was only one year old he crawled to where his mother had some liquid boiling in a saucepan and when he pulled himself up his hand went into the scorching liquid. His father, a 1 pound a day labourer couldn’t afford proper medical treatment for him and took him to a ‘quack’ or witch doctor. This little boy must have suffered so much, and this injury left him disabled with all his fingers contracted and his hand permanently closed and disfigured. This in Bangladesh is a great tragedy because if a child cannot work then he becomes a financial burden for his parents. Dr Jishu himself operated on Sabbir with a series of skin graft operations and now Sabbir can open his hand normally.
This time, at the beginning of the year the BanglaCymru medical team under the leadership of Prof Dr Salek travelled to Noahkhali, situated close to the coast of the Bay of Bengal and close to the estuary of the Ganges to hold a BanglaCymru cleft camp. Noahkhali, translated ‘New Canal’ is a place which has suffered greatly from natural disasters and great human conflict during the struggle for independence during the last part of the last century. Once again, all the cleft patients form the surrounding area came to be assessed for this life changing operation. One typical story was that of Tahiman, a fifteen year old girl, although, similar to most of the children she wasn’t too sure about her age. Her parents struggled to afford to send her to school during her younger days. Despite her happiness to be enrolled at the local school, she was a cleft child and consequently her life became unbearable because of the teasing and being shunned by all around her. She left and remained illiterate and uneducated ever since.
During that week, Tahmina and 63 other cleft patients were given a new chance in life as a result of the kindness of BanglaCymru supporters. The total now is an astounding 315 operations.
Part 2 – 2011
April brought another opportunity for the BanglaCymru medical team to change lives. This time the team went to a small region called Tangail which is part of the Dhaka Division in the middle of Bangladesh. This is an area approximately the same geographical size as Anglesey, but instead of Anglesey’s population of seventy thousand Tangail has the population of the whole of Wales, which is 3.5 million! There’s a natural complex river system here that brings great benefits, but during the rainy season brings much suffering and damage. Agriculture is the area’s main industry with fishing and weaving very common amongst the working class. Similar to the rest of the country, only 29% of the area’s population is literate.
The operating theatre of the local hospital was hired; a very poor and inadequate establishment, and consequently many medical equipment and paraphernalia had to be transported there to facilitate the work. Approximately 150 patients came desperate to be treated for a variety of medical problems, but only 56 of them were cleft patients, which is the prime mission of our medical team. However, as usual, those who were disappointed were referred to other charities that could offer help, and although 13 cleft patients were not given treatment for a variety of reasons they were given instructions on how to meet the team later in the year. So, those that were fit and strong enough to have the operation which would change their lives for ever were chosen
One of them was Fahima. She was a 15 year old girl with a cleft lip and palate. Her mother was very anxious about her daughter’s future especially because there was a good chance that she could marry soon, but only if she was treated for both conditions. The prospective husband had specified this proviso. It was explained to the mother that it was highly unusual to offer a palate correction for a person of her daughter’s age because of the risk of uncontrolled bleeding, and also treating both lip and palate at the same time was risky. However, the mother pleaded with the chief surgeon to carry out both procedures saying that the medical risk was less than the risk of not marrying and living an unhappy and ‘unsuccessful’ life. Thankfully, the unusual risky double treatment was successful and the after a few days the two went home happily to arrange the wedding!
Fahima before the operation | Fahima in the recovery room
This ‘cleft camp’ again was a great accomplishment, and as a consequence of the kindness of the BanglaCymru supporters 43 cleft patients were given successful operations in Tangail. Since late 2008 we have to date operated on 359 poor patients and I know that the gratefulness of the patients and the medical team to the people of Wales is truly sincere and heartfelt.
Part 3 – 2011
Over the remote marshlands of the Rajshahi Division of Bangladesh I travelled for the second time in twelve months with the BanglaCymru medical team. It was a long and frightening journey to reach Rajshahi town hospital where out ‘cleft camp’ had been arranged. The only qualification needed by Bangladeshi drivers is the ability at an alarming speed to break every rule in the Highway Code every couple of miles. Six persons are killed on Bangladesh roads every hour, but thankfully we didn’t become part of those statistics!
Exactly a year ago we came here for the first time and treated many patients. The venture was such a success that we were invited back to see numerous new patients. There was a rumour that a large number of patients had registered. This naturally didn’t mean that every patient would be treated. Some of the reasons for not selecting a prospective patient are a lack of nourishment and the need to fortify the patient’s health and babies too young with withstand surgery but their details are kept for further consultation. Also, there are conditions that are not cleft and therefore referred to alternative specialists and some complicated conditions referred to the world famous cleft surgeon, Dr Sommerlad to see on his annual visit to Dhaka. A cleft face rather than a cleft lip or palate is a truly frightening condition and during our stay we saw three. We were able to operate on two and the other one will see Dr Sommerlad. Sadly, we see one or two wretched patients whose extreme and grim conditions are without any hope of any kind of remedy.
One person who came was a grandmother and her young grandson. Tearfully she told us about her son and his wife who lived with her. When the child was born with a cleft lip, the mother became so frightened thinking about the social repercussions that she ran away, abandoned her newly-born and she was never seen again: the curse of the cleft mother! The grandmother decided to raise the child with all the love she possessed.
The grandmother and her grandson | Leaving the hospital after the operation
No-one can comprehend the untiring work of the surgeons and the rest of the team during a ‘camp’ period. Professor Salek led the team with the support of assistant surgeons Dr Jishu (our co-ordinator), Dr Janaed, Dr Rupon and Dr Shalham the anaesthetist with four OT (Operation Theatre) boys. Most of the time three operation tables were in operation and some of the more complex operations taking more than three hours and the easier ones taking approximately one hour. But, one of the most remarkable things was the long hours they worked daily. They started promptly at 9.00am and the earliest they closed the theatre door was 1.00 am the following day. This went on ungrudgingly for six days!
One important development during my stay was the arrangements made by Dr Jishu, our medical co-ordinator with a local hospital in Chittagong to locate permanently a BanglaCymru unit there. As the BanglaCymru cleft project’s name becomes more and more well known in the Chittagong area patients will be referred there for consultations and surgery. Dr Jishu performed four operations before leaving for Rajshahi and we expect cleft and burns patients to visit him regularly in future. Therefore, in future we will arrange a combination of cleft camps in various parts of Bangladesh as well as regular operations in our unit in Chittagong.