cleft lip surgery
Representative image of a patient with a cleft lip undergoing surgery

New Delhi: In a case of major surgery, doctors at a hospital in the capital used the cartilage and fat from the ribs of a nine-year-old Yemeni boy to reconstruct his and twin brother’s cleft lips and nose.

Cleft lip and associated nose and palate deformities lead to a problem in breathing and speech, said Dr Ajaya Kashyap, the medical director of KAS Medical Centre and MedSpa.

The Yemeni twins, Ahmed and Shad, were not able to breathe properly and their speech was affected, too. At school, their appearance, because of their cleft lips, affected their confidence level.

The surgery, conducted around two weeks ago, was successful with no rejection or complications, Dr Kashyap said.

“Usually, to correct cleft lip deformity, that also includes reconstruction of a part of the nose and upper lips, we need to take cartilage and fats from the rib bone of a patient.

“However, in this case, one of the boys was not healthy enough for this procedure. So, we took cartilage and rib fats from one of the twins and used on both of them. Since the donor was an identical twin, it made for a great genetic match for the recipient,” the doctor said.

Dr Preeti Pandya, a consultant surgeon at KAS Medical Centre, said the major challenge in transplant therapy is rejection, wherein the immune system of the recipient start producing antibodies against the donor cells considering it a foreign substance leading to a medical emergency. “But the boy was lucky that he had an identical twin, who shared his genetic composition,” she explained.

Cleft lips are a congenital defect that affects 3.28 per 10,000 children worldwide. The deformity happens when during the pregnancy, the lip tissue does not join completely, leading to an opening in the upper lip.

Research indicates that while cleft lips are not a life-threatening condition for the children, the problem of obvious disfigurement of face extends to repeated infections and social stigma that affect speech, hearing, and teeth formation in a patient.

India offers world class treatment for a variety of diseases, disorders and other medical conditions not restricted to deformities like cleft lips. However, medical tourism remains an untapped potential of the country, notwithstanding the formation of a board for the purpose.