Dr. Stefan De Swardt

Dr. Stefan De Swardt

Operation Smile hosts Winter Blues Tea to benefit children

Williams Lake physician Dr. Stefan De Swardt knows first hand the importance of cleft lip and palate surgery.

Williams Lake physician Dr. Stefan De Swardt knows first hand the importance of cleft lip and palate surgery.

When he was an infant in South Africa, he had the surgery.

The first procedure when he was three months old. The second at nine months of age.

“I even had surgery last year in Vancouver,” he said. “It was a final repair because some times the older you get, things change. I had to have a bit of a bone wrap put in.”

Being an adult and going through the surgery was interesting, he said.

“Of course I can’t remember what it was like when I was nine months old.”

For two and a half years, De Swardt has been part of a group in Williams Lake that raises money for Operation Smile — the non-profit international medical charity that provides safe, effective reconstructive surgery and related medical care for children born with facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate.

The surgery has to be performed by a plastic surgeon and involves dental work and bone grafts.

“I’m a family doctor and would love to be able to do the surgery, but I’m not qualified. You also need anesthesiologists, dieticians and speech therapists as part of the team.”

Operation Smile, started in the 1970s, has travelled to Asia, South American, Mexico and other places in North America to perform the surgery.

Surgery should be performed as early as possible because cleft lips or palates can inhibit an infant’s ability to breastfeed or bottle feed because they cannot get suction.

“A lot of them are at risk of malnutrition or death,” De Swardt said.

It’s not known what causes cleft lips and palates, but there can be stigma attached because people don’t know a lot about it.

“Some people blame the mother that she must have done something, but I’m a twin and my sister doesn’t have one.”

On Saturday, Feb. 22, the group is hosting a Winter Blues Tea from 2 to 4 p.m. at Cariboo Bethel Church on Western Avenue to raise funds for Operation Smile.

“I will do a short presentation, and there will be some other speakers,” De Swardt said.

To date the $10,500 raised locally by the group has gone toward supplies and equipment.