Giving Reason to Smile in a Life-changing Initiative

Thiruvananthapuram: Being able to smile is one of the greatest gifts of humans. What about a social mission that is committed towards making these smiles possible? Well, that’s what a bunch of specialists precisely do under a CSR mission aptly named ‘Smile Please’!

In what could be an hour-long surgery, they gift smiles, a lifetime of confidence and better quality of life, mostly to children.

‘Smile Please’, the flagship CSR programme supported by Muthoot Pappachan Foundation (MPF), and funded by Muthoot Fincorp, Muthoot Automobiles and Muthoot Microfinance, is a pan-India initiative, giving access to quality comprehensive cleft care free of cost to people mostly hailing from the rural regions of the country. It was four years ago that the Muthoot Pappachan Group (MPG) reached out to Mission Smile, a pioneering organisation in cleft care, based in Mumbai.

The project, the primary component of HEEL (Health, Education, Environment and Livelihood) programme for social engagement envisioned by MPG, has already changed the lives of 884 patients with orofacial clefts across the country. With ‘Smile Please’, the MPF has put in place what can be called an impactful and comprehensive cleft care and patient rehabilitation programme.

“One in every 1000 live births is born with a cleft lip,” said Prasanth Nellickal who heads the CSR Department at MPG. “The important thing is the misconception about the medical phenomena. Most of the people understand it as a cosmetic problem, while the fact is that one or two in every 10 babies born with a cleft lip do not live to celebrate their first birthday,’’ he said.

Babies born with a cleft lip, a congenital medical condition that results from the abnormalities in the early stages of embryonic development of foetus, can affect the lips, palate, nose, ears and eyes, and may even be connected to a heart problem.

“Awareness is crucial. Except in Kerala everywhere else superstitions shroud the incidence of clefting. It was seen as a curse on the mother for cutting meat during an eclipse! While health issues such as inability to be breastfed and associated problems like malnutrition and stunting inhibit physical growth and development in children, social isolation can make life difficult for the grown-ups living with a cleft lip and palate. The result is physical, psychological, educational, social and vocational difficulties leading to a poor quality of life,’’ said Prasanth, detailing the reasons behind the choice.

At MPF, the CSR projects serve a double purpose – both social and employee engagement. The company staff themselves take up the job of spreading the word about the mission among the local people. Priya, a young mother from Kanjirappally, whose second daughter Aswini was born with a cleft lip and palate, came to know about the mission through one such outreach programme. The family was in distress as the child was not able to eat any solid food. “We would feed her only Lactogen, the baby food. Any other food would get stuck in her throat or come out through her nose,’’ she said. After two surgeries, her three-year-old is a smart young child today.

After the branch staff identify the patients, their photos will be sent to surgeons for an instant assessment of the intensity of the problem. Depending on the gravity, the case will be referred to the hospitals which associate with the project or held over for considering at the next mission medical camp held at locations where the company has presence. From identifying the patient to providing advice to facilitating follow-up steps, it is the branch personnel who spearhead the mission.

“A baby can have a lip surgery at six months when hemoglobin levels are above 10. For a palate surgery, however, he/she has to be at least 10 months old,” said Prasanth.

‘’The project follows the US medical protocols and on a typical mission, large teams of 40-plus medical staff comprising specialist surgeons, speech therapists, dentists, cardiologists and committed nursing staff, both from India and abroad, work for around a week. Hospital infrastructure is also critical,’’ said Prasanth.

The mission focuses on early childhood intervention as the results will be far more tangible and impactful. However, older patients are also welcome. With upcoming projects at their hospital, Muthoot Life Brigade, in Kottayam and then in Puducherry, the mission will clock 1000 surgeries by March 2017.

“We do not leave any loose ends. A couple of doctors stay back and teams revisit for follow-up. We also ensure that the aftercare is clearly conveyed to the parents and relatives through pamphlets printed in local languages or vocally in situations where the patients are illiterate,’’ he said. With due care in all aspects and a focus on young patients, the mission truly has been spreading smiles for a lifetime.