Suffolk medic helps children smile again

A consultant anaesthetist at the West Suffolk Hospital has returned from his fourth trip abroad to help children with facial deformities to smile again.

Clive Duke, of Little Whelnetham, near Bury St Edmunds, regularly takes annual leave from his role at the hospital to work for Operation Smile which provides free surgery to repair cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities for children across the globe.

In the last three years Mr Duke has travelled to India, Ghana, and Madagascar, and most recently joined about 50 other medical professionals from across the world to help children in the Philippines. Together, they operated on 147 children.

Mr Duke, who has worked at West Suffolk Hospital since 2004, said: “The teams who go on these missions are made up of volunteers from all over the world and include not only doctors and nurses but also administrators and photographers. It’s always fun and the team is incredibly cohesive.

“Operation Smile takes First World medicine to the Third World. I didn’t want to go out to the Third World and drop my quality or standards of care. I feel hugely supported by the team.”

In the Philippines he met a 14-year-old child who had not been to school for years because he had been teased about his condition, while in Madagascar he met two teenagers who had walked for four days to get to the operating theatre.

“It’s not just a physical incapacity – they have problems eating, they have problems talking,” he said. “They don’t go to school usually, they’re shunned, they might not get married.

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“It affects their whole life to such a huge degree and so it’s a great thing we can do to operate and give them a smile. It has a huge effect on the child and their family.

“I wanted to give something back - It’s life transforming. You see the mothers and the grandmothers in the recovery room and afterwards they are beaming from ear to ear. They were hugely grateful for everything we did.”

Operation Smile celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, having started in the Philippines in 1982. For more information about the charity, visit