Volunteer reconstructive plastic surgeon Dr. Opoku Ware Ampomah knows only too well the positive impact cleft surgery can have on a patient’s life. He has seen firsthand the joy on the faces of parents whose children’s smiles and lives have been transformed – and this has been his motivation to offer his surgical expertise to Operation Smile for almost a decade.
Building a local team
Dr Ampomah has taken part in many operation smile programmes, but most importantly has been instrumental training other surgeons and healthcare staff to address the need for plastic and reconstructive surgery in the country. The ultimate aim of this work is to bring affordable cleft care, closer to those who need it most with a hub and spoke model of care.
When Dr Ampomah first found out about Operation Smile in 2011, there were only a couple of hospitals able to provide reconstructive surgery, and cleft surgery was just one in a long list of other conditions requiring this specialty. Resources were stretched to breaking point and very few patients were able to either afford or access the treatment they needed. In addition to these barriers, geography was a challenge too – in a country the size of Ghana – how could cleft care be brought within reach of those whose nearest hospital may be many hours away?
Operation Smile came in at a good time to help us providing surgery to people living with untreated cleft conditions. Seeing my first patient for Operation Smile, I knew that this was something impactful to the families, and I saw the kind of gratitude that patients expressed. Also, a lot of these patients were people who, given the kind of conditions that existed at that time, they would not have been able to access care because there was a huge financial gap. When I came on board, what we did was to try and build local capacity in terms of cleft care. Initially, I was just the main surgeon for Ghana. Now we have about five or six surgeons who have been trained through the Operation Smile system.Dr Opoku Ware Ampomah