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Surgeons for Smiles

Eritrea has been working to strengthen relationship with other health associations within and out of the country to develop the healthcare standards of the nation.

In 2017, Lip and Palate Cleft surgery has been conducted on 35 children and six adults at the Orrota Referral Hospital by Eritrean and Foreign surgeons. An American Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Edward Zebovitz was the coordinator of the surgery. The program was facilitated by Dr. Laynesh Gebrhiwet.

The team mainly focuses on surgeries of excision of tumors and cysts of the jaws, cheeks, lips, tongue, roof and floor of the mouth, when such conditions require a pathological (histological) examination and surgical procedures required to correct accidental injuries of the jaws, cheeks, lips, tongue, roof and floor of the mouth. The team also gives treatment of oral and/ or facial cancer, treatment of fractures of facial bones, surgery for external (extra oral) incision and drainage of cellulitis, and surgery of accessory sinuses, salivary glands or ducts.

On its last trip the team mainly focused on providing Lip and Palate Cleft surgery as an uncorrected Lip and Palate cleft makes it difficult, if not impossible to nurse or feed from a bottle. Even benign facial tumors can grow to such large and distorted sizes that the capacity for an adult to function as a normal member of the community is impossible. Left untreated, tumors can grow to the point of being life-threatening as a person struggles to breathe or eat and render the victim a social outcast.

Cleft lip and cleft palate are common, treatable birth defects that occur when the left and right sides of a baby’s face fail to grow together during pregnancy. Cleft lip and cleft palate is typically an isolated defect that occurs randomly and is not hereditary. However, it can be part of a syndrome that includes other congenital defects. Having one child with a cleft lip or cleft palate only slightly increases the risk of a future child being affected.

Dr. Lynesh was the only maxillofacial surgeon Eritrea during the thirty-year war of independence. Now, a national hero, she remains one of the few surgeons in the country capable of providing facial reconstructive surgery still needed by those affected by war.

The Surgeons for Smiles (SFS), is founded and led by Annapolis-based surgeon, Dr. Edward Zebovitz; and has traveled to Eritrea for over 8 years, working alongside with Dr. Laynesh and Operating with the principle, “Invite us and we shall come.” The SFS has conducted over 250 free surgeries in Eritrea.

Dr. Zebovitz, a passionate humanitarian, participates in scores of international surgical missions providing free surgery to those in need. Offering hope and bright new smiles to families in the Philippines, East Africa and the Caribbean, Dr. Zebovitz corrects and manages congenital cleft lip and palate deformities. Counting these experiences as the most gratifying of his life’s work, Dr. Zebovitz plans to continue promoting his missions as he travels across the continents.

The treatment of cleft lip and cleft palate is complex. The team’s strength is evident in the extent of the medical and surgical expertise. The child is evaluated and treated with a great care and the dedicated team coordinator, Dr. Zebovitz, ensures that the child’s care is provided in a timely, coordinated and effective manner.

Dr. Lynesh said that the cleft lip and cleft palate surgery has been difficult to perform within the nation; it needs high quality of experience and specialization in that specific field. Likewise, in Eritrea, there is shortage of professional doctors in these kinds of surgeries. As a result, the surgery will have a significant contribution in the exchange of experiences. Besides, there will be a lot of surgeries to take place within these five days of mission trip. The program will benefit many Eritrean patients.

Dr. Lynesh said that the Ministry of Health has a continuous contact with Dr. Zebovitz. She said that they send him an update of the patients’ cases list, and he plans his trips to handle these cases by visiting to the nation. She added that Dr. Zebovitz is a good friend of Eritrea and dedicated to help the Eritrean people. Most of the time he comes and works with great devotion until the day of his departure; he has been a great help in showing and updating new technologies and materials to perform the maxillofacial surgeries.

Dr. Zebovitz also said that the reception and cooperation of the Eritrean doctors was vital to the success of the program, especially Dr. Lynesh’s cooperation and encouragement. Also the doctors in training are enthusiastic, hungry for knowledge and interested. It is easy to show them and work with them despite the fact that the surgeries are difficult and intense.

He added that out of the other countries he had visited for the surgery mission trips, Eritrea has better facilities and equipment for the surgeries. In the other countries, the trip should be planned with the whole medical equipment and supplies as well as nurses and doctors. Eritrea is easier for which to plan surgery mission trips, and so far each surgery mission trip has been uncomplicated and successful.

In the recovery room, Sister Haregu Kidane said that so far the surgeries are going well; there is no severe condition that it cannot be handled. It shows that the doctors are devoted and took good care of their patients until they got in the recovery room. She added that in that room the whole recovery process of the patient took place and most of them came in a good condition. Furthermore, as the surgery is not easy and the team performs a lot of surgeries within few days, it is miraculous to see no difficulties with the patients. Overall, there are efficacious results in the patients’ appearance besides their health conditions.

All in all, Dr. Lynesh recommended that as the disease is unusual and difficult to handle, the community should be cooperative in bringing their family members early to get maxillofacial surgery. Especially, parents should bring their children with Lip and Oral cleft problems to the health facilities for early treatment. Usually the community is unaware of the benefits of taking early treatment for such kind of diseases. As it takes time the disease becomes tougher and tougher to get treatment for.

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