Absolutely Free. Cleft Palate Surgeries for Children,” read a huge billboard at the city bus-stand. I noted down the contact phone number. Returning to my village, I informed the labourer parents who had a three-year-old child with this deformity.
On returning home after the successful surgery, they almost worshipped me as if I was a god for giving them that precious piece of information. Rather, they should be ever grateful to Dr Subodh Kumar Singh, who got rid of the physical deformity and the social stigma from their girl child.
As the son of a poor railway employee, young Subodh had been dreaming of becoming an air force pilot or a journalist. But the sight of an elderly man with a cleft palate distressed him. He thought of the many children born with this deformity. Why not rectify it at an earlier stage so that they can enjoy all their lives, he pondered.
Born in Barauni, Bihar, Subodh did his schooling in Varanasi. He then did his medical studies at the Institute of Medical Sciences from Banaras Hindu University. Later he took specialized training at various institutions in India, the U.K. and U.S.
He started G. S. Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital in Mahmoorganj, Varanasi, in memory of his father Gyan Singh. His objective was to provide super-specialty care in plastic surgery at an affordable cost to the needy. Poor and illiterate patients can walk in here at any time and get an appointment, though it is also available online. The patients are listened to with a lot of care and concern.
Subodh got a boost after he met Satish Kalra, the South Asia Director of Smile Train Project in 2004. The project offered him funds to perform free cleft palate surgeries. Every year, in February, he organizes free medical camps, which attract a large number of patients from West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and other states. Outreach programmes are organized at various parts of the country.
A team of social workers are sent to remote villages to identify and bring them to the camp. Along with his medical team, he performs nearly a dozen surgeries daily at his Mahmoorganj hospital. So far he has performed 1700 free-of-cost cleft palate surgeries with his team of doctors.
American film maker, Megan Mylan, made a documentary Smile Pinki (2008) based on the life of children with cleft palates and Subodh’s hospital. It won the 2009 Oscar Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject), and his patient, Pinki, became a celebrity after that.
He was conferred the Smile Train Hero Award at Baltimore, USA, in 2007, for providing the highest number of free cleft surgeries in the world. He has received many other academic awards, as well, including the PEET Prize of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India and awards like Kashi Ratna, Manishi Ratna and City Pushpa.
More than all these awards and honours, he is cheered profusely when his cleft palate patients smile beautifully.