Rebecca is a UK-based anaesthetist, who participated in the Operation Smile Regan Fellowship Programme. She volunteered on medical missions in Ghana and Malawi.
Rebecca with a patient in Malawi
What inspired you to first get involved with Operation Smile?
‘I was inspired to get involved with Operation Smile by a colleague who was an amazing advocate for the charity. He then mentored me as a Regan Fellow in 2016, which was a fabulous experience that allowed me to witness the work Operation Smile does in the field. I committed to being a volunteer once I met the founders Bill & Kathy Magee and heard them speak about their 35 years of involvement since starting the organisation – it was very inspiring!’
Is there one patient whose story will always stay with you?
‘On medical mission in Malawi, I volunteered as a paediatric anaesthetist. During screening, I met a little baby girl not yet six weeks old with a unilateral cleft lip and significant cleft palate. This baby’s mother, who was only 19 years old, had travelled 200km to arrive at the medical mission site and was planning on travelling straight back after the screening. She was very worried about her baby and was struggling to breastfeed. As a result the baby was malnourished, very small (approx 2.5kg) and weak. With the help of a local medical volunteer translator, we talked with the mum about the baby’s health and how she might work with our wider team to feed the baby expressed milk and formula in a way the baby could take it more easily. We managed to reassure her and to convince her to meet with the nutrition support team that could provide the help they needed.
While this baby was too young and not fit at the time to undergo surgery, we felt incredibly moved by the journey this mother was going through and extremely hopeful that with Operation Smile’s support this baby would now have a great chance at survival and may be ready to undergo her first surgery on one of the upcoming medical missions.’
Describe the biggest challenges you see for patients where you have worked.
‘Working with Operation Smile in Ghana and Malawi has allowed me to see the need for safe surgery, but also for trained medical staff. Staff for basic healthcare and for work like cleft surgery, are in extremely short supply. Often these countries rely on training specialists through support of international trainers in and out of the home country.
As an anaesthetist, I was fascinated to discover that Malawi has just four doctors in training as anaesthetists, two of whom I met in Blantyre and two out of country training in South Africa.’