The provincial health office and the nonprofit Operation Smile Philippines are seeking 100 patients who wish to have free cleft lip and palate surgeries this month in the town of Narra.

Narra health officer Dr. Maria Arlin Josue, chief of the town’s hospital, said Operation Smile is finally returning after taking a break due to the coronavirus disease pandemic.

She said that correcting the congenital facial impairment improves the function of a child’s lips and mouth and reduces the likelihood of certain health concerns, such as recurring aspiration pneumonia.

It also seeks to instill self-assurance by protecting them from perceptions that could have a negative effect on how they view themselves.

“Ang pinaka-essence ay mabigyan mo sa unang pagkakataon ang bata na mag-smile kasi nabu-bully sila. Hindi nila ma-express talaga ang totoong smile, sa pagsasalita ay nabu-bully din dahil ngongo. Iyon ang time para ma-change mo ang buong buhay nya dahil na-repair ang cleft,” she said.

Dr. Louise Albacete, medical specialist II and pediatrician at the Narra Municipal Hospital (NMH), said that the operation has a holistic approach until post-operation. The team will provide speech therapy, dental assistance to correct the teeth’s formation after the cleft, and nutrition for the children.

“Importante kasi na early natin ma-repair para yong speech nila ay ma-develop early. Although si Operation Smile ay nag-a-accept ng matatanda na gusto pa rin magpa-repair, pero mas maigi na early siya ma-start for speech therapy, hindi tayo mahihirapan,” she said.

Dr. Lilian Arcinas, a volunteer dentist who is also the coordinator of the Palawan Provincial Oral Health Program, said that correcting teeth is a very important part of speech therapy for patients.

“Kunyare may cases na butas talaga yong ngalangala, kapag adult kasi medyo mahirap siya tahiin dahil instead na magdikit, minsan naghihiwalay siya. Ang isa pang papel ng dentista ay gawan iyon ng appliance na kahawig siya ng pustiso. Wherein, instead na i-surgery ay tatakpan na lang,” Arcinas said.

The screening for patients is scheduled for March 11, and operations will be scheduled in the following days. Patients with cleft lip and palate between the ages of six months and 22 years old may register and undergo surgery.

If parents bring their patients younger than six months of age, they may get nutrition evaluation and counseling.

“Para hindi napupunta yong gatas sa baga. Nilalagyan ng takip agad habang bata pa sila para hindi bubuka,” Arcinas said.

Jamalyn Rubio, a former patient and the program coordinator of Operation Smile Philippines, stated that the procedures performed over the years have given patients hope and boosted their self-esteem. It leads to employment prospects and the avoidance of bullying.

“Dito sa Pilipinas, kapag meron kang cleft lip parang hindi siya acceptable sa socials. Kaya tuloy-tuloy pa rin si Operational Smile hindi lang sa Pilipinas kundi international. Magchi-change talaga yong life, dreams, gaganda yong confidence,” she said.

For this year’s surgery, 60 patients will be screened, and 100 will be operated on. The Operational Smile Philippines will cover the transportation costs for patients and their companions to Narra Municipal Hospital, as well as their food during their stay and post-surgery treatment such as vitamins.

During the screening, patients will also have an RT-PCR test. Patients are encouraged to pack clothing suitable for five to seven days, as the procedure timetable will vary depending on the observation of doctors on site.

Doctors also noted that patients, particularly children, will receive mental and emotional preparation to help them understand what will happen during their procedures.

Patients are also encouraged to bring birth certificates or identification cards.

“Okay lang kahit hindi sila maka-register agad, the day before saka nila maisipan na ‘I am ready.’ Kasi may iba na nakatago lang sila kasi ayaw nila lumabas, natatakot. Kahit hindi nakaregister, still welcome ss March 11,” Rubio said.

For registration, patients may contact Operation Smile at 0955-1555-254, info.philippines@operationsmile.org, and jamalyn.rubio@operationsmile.org. For updates, they can also follow Operation Smile Philippines on Facebook.

Operation Smile, which started in 2016, is resuming after taking a break due to the pandemic. Its mission partner is the Provincial Health Office (PHO) of Palawan.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.