Today, Curofy connects with Dr Gagan Sabharwal he is a consultant Maxillofacial surgeon with Fortis healthcare and also runs a free comprehensive cleft care centre at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, gurgaon.
Curofy: Please tell us about your journey so far?
Professional journey so far was tough initially, I’d say really tough, because I passed out of one of the premier institutes with maxillofacial surgery and I had to come out of it and do dental work, because there was no recognition of my specialty. My aim was to build my specialty, rather than myself, so that the people know that this specialty exists, because in North India this speciality doesn’t have as much weightage as orthodontics or prosthodontics. It was pretty tough initially, the first couple of years, but time changes everything, and I think I got the right opportunities, and I got the right people with me, and I’ve been with the Fortis group for the last 7-8 years, but still there wasn’t much work, but obviously everything takes time. Now I’m pretty happy, and I’m happy with what I’m doing as I get to operate a lot these days.
Dr. T N Sabharwal is my grandfather,he is the closest person i had in my life.I started a cleft center in 2012 at a friend’s hospital, where I had funding from an International organization called future-faces, but abruptly they stopped funding and I had a few patients with cases in the middle, so I had no option but to start. I started borrowing money from friends, and I used to travel a lot to get cheap medicines and consumables at wholesale prices, because I didn’t have a lot of funding at that time, nor do I have now, but it was like a small start.
Then I got associated with an association called Rotaplast, which is a 20 year old NGO fron San Francisco which is doing Cleft work, and they wanted to do a Cleft Mission in India, so one of the rotary clubs approached me, knowing that I had already worked on clefts, and offered me to associate my trust with this, so that logistics can be organized through the trust rather than the rotary club supporting it.
That was the journey three years ago, and this November we did our third mission. We’ve operated around 200 patients since, and screened around 500 patients in these 3 years. A lot of support comes from Rotaplast, because they get all the supplies and manpower also, but recruiting patients and local logistics are taken care of by the trust. There is a lot more to be done, but I don’t get much time to do it myself. My wife supports me at times, but we don’t do it on a regular basis. I do one mission a year through my trust and that’s mostly November. This year we might not have it, because the hospital that we are doing it with has stopped the contract, so we have to figure out a new contract.
Curofy: Can you brief us about cleft lip and palate.. And what made u think of treating them?
I did my residency in Mangalore, and we used to do three thousand cases in a year, that is, 8-10 cases every day. Most of the specialists who have a cleft center either would have trained at that college or would have passed out from that college. Our mentor was fantastic.
There are a very few doubly qualified dentists in India, and he was one of them. We did so many surgeries in cleft, and I did a former fellowship in clefts as well, so I thought if I have the skill then why not use it. The best part about cleft is, it’s very gratifying. It’s simple now as we do it day-in and day-out, and gives instant results.
In India every 700 live births, there’s one cleft patient, and there are around 35,000 cleft patients born every year in India. There’s a huge backlog, because not all patient’s get surgery done. In the last mission, we operated on a 48 year old female patient, with a primary cleft lip, and she’d been living with that, and there were 30 years old patients also. People don’t know about this, and even if they do know there are not many centers. A place like Delhi doesn’t have a big issue, as Delhi has huge hospitals with great facilities, even with a waiting list patients get operated. My patients mainly belong to Gurgaon and Faridabad area, where there are centers, but still there’s a huge need in these areas.
I have patients from outside of state coming now, because I’ve been doing this for 4-5 years. The best part about this hospital and the center that we have here is, that it’s comprehensive. We don’t do just lip and palate surgeries we also do secondary deformities, for example, the patients who have already gotten their lip repaired earlier, and it’s not been done well cosmetically, we do it again, and that’s also for free. Most of the centers don’t fund for it, they only fund 10-20% of secondary surgeries, but luckily the foundation is now helping us to promote in getting patients and getting operations done. Cleft is psychological. The kids don’t come out, stay at home as it’s right on your face.
What makes me think that I can treat them? I’m skilled in treating clefts and it’s gratifying. I would leave a 50,000 rupee case for a free case, and I’ve done it. When I go for 15 days in a month, they just pay for my tickets and hotel and food expenses, and I lose a lot of money, but it all comes back, because when you give the child back to the mother and she smiles, and gives you blessings, that’s more than money.
Meet the Expert series connects Curofy users to top doctors, who have excelled in their field of work. The aim is to enable a channel for our readers to learn from their experiences and ask meaningful queries to them related to their career or a critical case.