Bringing Back Childrens' Smiles

This man helps heal children and gives them smiles.

Bringing Back Childrens' Smiles | This man helps heal children and gives them smiles.

Subodh Kumar Singh is not an ordinary man. In fact, Singh is exceptional. This plastic surgeon in Uttar Pradesh, India has performed 37,000 surgeries to give children smiles. He has earned his wings by performing the corrective surgeries under the Smile Train initiative that provides these life-changing cleft operations without fees.

Giving back to others comes naturally to Singh who had a difficult childhood according to The Better India. His father died when he was only 13 – the youngest of four children – compelling his brothers to leave school to support the family.

“We started selling homemade candles, soaps and goggles on streets and in local shops. My father was a clerk at the railway department, and my eldest brother received a job on compassionate grounds. The gratuity received after my father’s death and my brother’s income went into repaying our debts. But this was not enough to run a family,” Singh told Better India.

But his brothers insisted that he go back to school to complete his studies and fulfill his dreams to become a doctor. Now he uses his skills to help children who are born with cleft lips/palates to live normal lives and to smile.

What are clefts?
Cleft lips and palates are openings or slits in the upper lip or roof of a child’s mouth according to the Mayo Clinic. They form during pregnancy when the unborn baby’s facial structures do not close completely.

Babies born with cleft lips can have difficulty breastfeeding and speaking Singh told Better India. These babies cannot access milk as required. Many [babies] die due to malnourishment and often have their growth stunted. The children find it difficult to use the tongue to speak, causing speech problems,” he said.

Besides physical difficulties, these children also face social stigmas in India and they frequently dropout of school due to bullying. Their mothers also face social pressure because their children were born with clefts.

On the bright side, clefts are easily corrected with surgery. Singh started performing these operations in 2004 and soon became a part of the Smile Train India team reported Indian Express. They quickly surpassed their goal of 2,500 surgeries in 2005 and now perform over 4,000 every year.

Taking it on the road
Singh and his team of plastic surgeons, social workers, nutritionists, and speech therapists prepared an initiative to track children born with clefts across India. They have healed children and families – especially those where the mother was abandoned after delivering a cleft baby – and have saved countless lives of severely malnourished kids.

Kartik Mondal, a laborer from West Bengal told Indian Express that Singh saved his five-month-old malnourished son Sonu when a government hospital in Kolkbata refused to treat the infant. “Dr Singh and his team in Varanasi gave him [Sonu] a new life. The doctor is a god to me and my family,” Mondal said.

Singh is a global speaker and trainer for Smile Train and the hospital he founded in Varanasi regularly trains physicians to perform this life-altering surgery. In 2008, Smile Train inspired a documentary about how Singh and his team were able to transform the life of Pinki Sonkar, an underprivileged child by repairing her cleft. The film won the Oscar for the best short documentary.  

His work has been recognized around the globe but Singh has remained humble. “I feel proud to have the power to change the lives of many. One surgery positively impacts more than one family and the life of an individual. Nothing gives me more joy than to reunite the families who accept their daughter-in-law after the surgery and do not blame her for the deformity,” he told Better India.

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