Spreading Smiles: Meet the Pune doctor who gives free cleft repair surgeries to children
Dr Pushkar Waknis is part of the Spreading Smiles Foundation, a charitable wing of Saishree Hospital, Aundh, working towards helping the socially and economically backward sections of the society with free medical treatment.pune Updated: Jan 14, 2018 15:19 IST
Dinesh Kamble was four months old when his parents got him to meet Dr Pushkar Waknis. He was born with a cleft lip, a separation of the upper lip and/or the roof of the mouth, but that was six months ago. Now, he is undergoing a deformation repair treatment, thanks to city-based doctor Pushkar Waknis. Dr Pushkar Waknis loves it when his patient smiles back at him. As a maxillofacial surgeon, his best reward, he says, is when his young patients feel confident about their face and smile wholeheartedly. Dr Waknis is part of the Spreading Smiles Foundation, a charitable wing of Saishree Hospital, Aundh, working towards helping the socially and economically backward sections of the society with free medical treatment.
“The dream is to reach the poorest of the poor and help them realise that even a child with a cleft lip and palate is still the ‘dream child’ that the family had wished for,” said Dr Waknis. “Cleft lip and palate is a condition resulting in a gap which occurs due to the lack of fusion of the lip or roof of the mouth during the first trimester of foetal development,” he added.
In India, one out of 700 children is born with the condition. Though it can affect children irrespective of their socio-economic background, it is mostly prevalent in the lower socio-economic strata populace and is mostly caused due to the lack of facilities during prenatal care and lack of understanding.
“The birth of a baby with a cleft lip and palate has a tremendous psychosocial impact on the whole family. Insufficient support and a feeling of inadequacy in dealing with the infant in basic needs like feeding further aggravates the problem,” Waknis said. He further adds, “These children are more prone to middle ear conditions, which may lead to a fluctuating hearing loss. This further adds to their speech and language problems. The psychosocial issues, frequent hospitalisation/ medical visits, speech language issues and aesthetic problems, together, can have a negative impact on the education and life of these children.”
Dr Waknis began the program called Spreading Smiles in 2012 and has given 150 children a reason to smile till date. It was while he was in Netherlands in 2009 for training that his Professor, Dr Peter Kessler from the University of Maastricht, suggested he look at cleft surgeries for children. “I was keen on helping the children and my professor suggested this route for me. But the program took off only after meeting Dr Neeraj Adkar of Sai Shree Hospital in 2011. You need infrastructure and also like-minded people to help in such cases where the operations and surgeries are conducted free of charge,” he said. Thus, with his team consisting of Dr Samrat Sabhlok, who helps Dr Waknis in conducting screening camps to identify these children, counsel them and prepare them for surgery, and Dr Trupti Pare, a competent anaesthetist who makes the surgery easy for both the patient and the surgeon, he conducts the free surgeries. These children are identified in the screening camps conducted in various parts of the state in Pune, Mangalwedha, Barsi, Mangaon, Roha ,Kolhapur and Solapur at regular intervals.
Dr Waknis feels that there is a timeline to follow for a child with cleft lip where he conducts a primary lip surgery at three months of age and palate surgery at six months of age. Audiological assessment is held every six months, while speech language assessment and early intervention begin before one year of age. This is continued as per requirement and dental check-ups are conducted every six months while orthodontic assessment is held at around six years of age with management as per requirement, and secondary surgery assessment and management as per requirement.