Pediatric hospitalist teaches children to ‘smile’ | News

An avid traveler, Glendale pediatric hospital physician Dr. Shelly Batra longed to try international medicine. When her boyfriend, a child life specialist, introduced her to Operation Smile, Batra said it gave her the chance of a lifetime.

“When I was introduced to Operation Smile, I went through a rough patch in my personal life,” she said of 2014.

“Being able to provide care to people who either don’t have access or don’t have the resources has always been something I’ve been interested in. I never really knew how to do it. Operation Smile gave me that platform to not only do what I love, but also in an environment built on delivering quality care.”

Operation Smile is a non-profit organization that helps patients with a cleft lip and palate. A cleft lip or cleft palate is an opening in the mouth that did not close during the early stages of pregnancy. Cleft disorders are mainly caused by genetics, medical conditions or exposure to harmful substances.

According to Operation Smile, a child is born with a cleft lip every 3 minutes worldwide. While this statistic is discouraging, as many as 9 out of 10 people have difficulties accessing basic medical care, such as surgery. This means that several children with a split condition will have to experience bullying if their condition is not corrected surgically.

This is where Operation Smile comes in. The nonprofit’s volunteer medical workers provide care to patients who would not have access to these types of procedures in any other hospital.

Batra, who sees patients at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, has a background in volunteering, but never for a non-profit medical organization.

“As a kid and teen in college, I volunteered with other groups, but mostly local stuff,” she said.

Operation Smile is the first nonprofit medical organization to which she has volunteered. She gave this organization a chance because she wanted to “practice medicine and do what I love to do.”

Since she started volunteering for the nonprofit, she has completed 11 missions. Batra has traveled to Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Morocco, Ghana, Madagascar, the Philippines and Mexico three times.

Although Batra said all trips are special, her top three missions are Vietnam, Morocco and Ghana. The missions in Morocco and Ghana were very instructive.

“I had the opportunity not only to learn new things myself, but also to teach local and international doctors how to manage pre- and post-operative care for our cleft palate patients,” Batra said.

The trip to Vietnam was Batra’s second mission with Operation Smile. It was called a MEGA mission, with multiple medical teams in different cities across the country performing surgeries on patients with a cleft lip in the same week.

“It was so amazing to watch all these people from all over the world come together for this one mission,” said Batra. “It was long, hard, exhausting and hot. But the smile was worth every minute.”

Operation Smile is multifaceted, she said. Not only does it provide medical care to patients with split conditions, but it also has nutritional, speech, and dietary services to help its patients before and after surgery. Batra is one of the medical providers training future volunteers for Operation Smile.

“I will train medical residents and fellows to maintain the line,” Batra said.

Batra is a children’s hospital that works with many newborns.

“Sometimes we get families who didn’t know they were going to have a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate or some other craniofacial condition,” Batra said.

When this situation arises, Batra refers the patients to its Operation Smile network if the patients cannot get their care on site.

“Having a network of people I can refer to is a huge asset to me. And then, in turn, it becomes an asset to my patients,” Batra said.

Patients with split conditions need several follow-up appointments after surgery. Often the medical volunteers stay connected with their patients.

“The great thing is that your patients recognize you. They’ll remember you,’ said Batra.

While Batra enjoys volunteering for Operation Smile, she would like to see more people doing what they love.

“If you’re thinking about doing something regularly, just do it. Do not wait. Don’t pass by and collect $200,’ said Batra. “Life is too short to miss an opportunity to help others.”

Comments are closed.