Dr Mahdi Shkoukani, a staff physician at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, screening one of the young patients. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Eighteen youngsters underwent free transformative cleft lip and palate operations at the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi last weekend thanks to an initiative by Operation Smile UAE, an organisation dedicated to giving free medical support to those with the condition.

Cleft lip and palates refer to openings in the upper lip or roof of the mouth or both. The condition is one of the most common birth defects and can be treated with surgery to correct facial appearance.

Two operation rooms were made available to 230 volunteers from both Cleveland Clinic and Operation Smile UAE, with food and other supplies provided to all patients and their families.

Evelyn Oyewusi from Nigeria said she was grateful to both the hospital and Operation Smile UAE for helping treat her seven-month-old daughter Naeem Rex Oyewusi.

“I feel so glad and relieved, I never believed my daughter would be selected for the surgery but when I found out I was so happy,” she said. “It feels like such a big burden and weight has been removed from my shoulders thanks to the successful surgery.”

Dr Mahdi Shkoukani, a staff physician at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Surgical Subspecialties Institute called the experience both a challenging and rewarding one, as he explained how he worked long 12-hour shifts over two days.

“It was a very tiring process, I was at the hospital on both days from 7am in the morning and did not leave until 7pm in the evening. We operated on 16 patients, most of whom were children, with each surgery taking about an average of one to two hours to complete. It’s a relatively straightforward process, but because we had so many patients that is what made it so gruelling, carrying out 18 different operations in just two days.

“Having said that, I was more than happy to take part because this was for a good cause, helping families who could not financially afford to have the surgery for their children. Seeing the emotional impact on the faces of the parents after the surgery is an indescribable feeling that makes it all worth it,” he added.

On how surgeries would impact on the lives of his patients, he recalled the case of a young woman who couldn’t get a job because people couldn’t understand her speech.

“That has all changed now,” he said. “The day after her surgery, her speech saw a significant improvement and we were all able to hear her much better. This will enable her to go on and lead a normal life like everyone else.”