Surgeons Give Children Their Smiles Back

Two teams of German, French and Cambodian surgeons and support staff were dispatched to Kompong Thom and Kompong Cham on Tuesday to perform surgery on children suffering facial disfigurement from injuries and malformations.

The teams are part of Oper­ation Sourire—or “operation smile”—and are sponsored by Aerzte der Welt, the German branch of Medi­cines Du Monde. The surgeons have all donated their time to provide free maxillo-facial sur­gery to treat facial in­juries caused by war, violence, illness or malnutrition.

“The surgeons leave their homes and positions and spend their holidays or take unpaid leaves to go to different hospitals for two or three weeks to operate on faces,” said Wilifried Schilli, the doctor who heads the program. They bring their own in­s­truments, sutures and dressings, he added.

The problem, Schilli said, is that the surgeries are highly specialized and require between three and six years of training on top of standard medical training in Europe. The goal, he said, is to teach Cambodian doctors to perform the procedures—an impossible task on such a short visit.

The German teams will be performing specialized operations like those on the cleft lip and cleft palate, said Katja Schwener, another visiting surgeon. “When we are done, we must confirm that the function and the aesthetic of the operation must work,” she said. Since children’s’ faces are still growing, several visits per patient might be required, she said.

The Operation Sourire team is coordinating its activities with the Ministry of Health and the Medi­cines Du Monde offices at Calm­ette Hospital, the German Em­bassy and the German Society for Technical Cooper­ation and Development. Besides their activities in Kompong Thom and Kompong Cham, French teams are carrying out similar activities in Battambang and Koh Kong. Each team will carry out two missions to each location every year.

Aerzte der Welt has been in­volved in Cambodia since 2000. Potential patients can contact the Medicines Du Monde office at Calmette Hospital to inquire about the free treatment.


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