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West Valley doctor helps bring 'new smiles' to developing countries

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Posted at 9:14 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 06:07:29-05

A West Valley pediatrician is part of a volunteer organization aimed to help those with cleft conditions.

For those who live with a cleft lip or palate, smiling in a photo isn't always easy.

People affected by cleft conditions are more susceptible to illness, they could struggle to eat or maintain a healthy weight. The psychological effects can lead to not being socially accepted.

West Valley Pediatric Hospitalist, Dr. Shelly Batra says a cleft condition is a source of isolation, especially for those in underserved communities.

"Kids don't want to play with other kids, adults are having a hard time getting jobs," said Dr. Batra.

Dr. Batra said getting the transformative surgery that leads to a new smile isn't out of the ordinary here in the U.S.

However, she learned bringing the typically 45-minute procedure to developing countries can be life-changing - no matter the age.

"My very first mission was in Guadalajara, I met a little boy there," recalled Batra with a big smile on her face.

Through the non-profit Operation Smile, which is a team of medical professionals that volunteers to travel internationally to help those with cleft conditions at no charge, Dr. Batra met a four-year-old boy in Mexico.

An encounter she wouldn't soon forget.

"He initially had his fist cleft-lip surgery, he also had a cleft palate, we knew he'd be coming back at some point for more surgeries," she said

Her mission in Mexico is one of more than a dozen she made outside the U.S.

She said the team of volunteers has been able to treat hundreds of patients in just a week's time.

Practicing medicine for low and middle-income countries was a reminder for Dr. Batra why she got into the practice to begin with.

"There's not all the politics behind it that goes on in healthcare right now. It's really just going out there and doing for your community," she said.

Two years after she met that little boy in Guadalajara, Mexico, she ran into the now 6-year-old who still remembered the woman who changed his young life.

"He spotted me and just gave me this giant hug, he was just screaming, 'Doctura! Doctura! Doctura!'"

There were plenty of smiles to go around that day - new and old.