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The gift of a new smile for James

Monday, 24 July 2017

The gift of a new smile for James

Playful five year-old James Narte Estrera from the Philippines has undergone surgery at Mater Children’s Private Brisbane for a complex craniofacial cleft thanks to Mater Children’s Private Brisbane and Operation Smile Australia.

The nature of his condition increases infection rates in his eyes, creates problems for his teeth as the bone structure isn’t formed correctly, as well as affecting his facial features.

Mater Director of Surgical Services Dr Richard Lewandowski and Anaesthetist Jason Schoutrop donated their time while Mater is waiving costs associated with the charity case.

Dr Lewandowski is a plastic surgeon and co-founder of Operation Smile Australia and explains that he became involved with the not-for-profit organisation 25 years ago while studying Medicine in the United States and volunteered all over the world.

“I brought Operation Smile to Australia around 1995, and we’ve treated 40–50 major cases here in Brisbane,” Dr Lewandowski said.

“James’s condition is a bit unusual. It’s a complex facial cleft which instead of just affecting the lip goes right up to his eyes making it more difficult to treat in his home country.

“Essentially, he has little structure underneath his skin and he still has issues with his eyes which will ultimately give him grief over time. These are all things we repair surgically regularly in Australia but may not get repaired regularly in the Philippines,” Dr Lewandowski said.

During the surgery Dr Lewandowski repaired James’s eyes using local tissue, ensuring the ducts connected up and repaired bone deficiency with bone from his hip. He also worked to minimise the scarring.

“The bone is basically the cement between the bricks,” Dr Lewandowski said. 

The life changing surgery will mean James will be free from infection in both his eyes and teeth and will be in much better health.

“If this takes the stigma from the cleft and gives him the opportunity to be just ‘another face in the crowd’ then we see surgery as a success,” he said. 

Dr Lewandowski is driven by the ethos of medicine, and a strong component of the work done at the Mater every day.

“We’ve also started up training units in the Philippines and Vietnam so that doctors can treat their own patients,” Dr Lewandowski said. 

“Everyone involved in this case has the same vision long term, about providing care to those people who have been afflicted with either birth deformity or trauma,” he said.

James’s mum Wendy hopes the surgery will give her son a new found confidence when he returns home and is extremely grateful for all the doctors are doing for her son.

Wendy and James travelled from the Camotes Island in the Philippines and are staying with host family Jackie and Gary Arnold, both Mater employees.

Jackie and Garry have been involved with three other Operation smile cases and value the opportunity to help others in need and giving back to the community.

In the spirit of the Sisters of Mercy, Mater offers compassionate service to the sick and needy, promotes an holistic approach to healthcare in response to changing community needs and fosters high standards of health-related education and research.

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Tags: Dr Richard Lewandowski, Jason Schoutrop, Mater Children's Private Brisbane, Operation Smile Australia