What began as a chance to see exotic wildlife on the Kenyan savannah has turned into an Enduring passion for Dr. Ken Wilson, an Associate professor in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine. Head of the Division of Plastic Surgery And Chief of Surgery at the IWK Health Centre, Dr. Wilson made his first trip to Africa with Operation Smile in 1995. There he worked with A team of Canadian and American surgeons, Repairing the faces of children with cleft lip and Palate. Since then, he has participated in 17 More missions through Operation Smile, a not-for-Profit organization that runs 30 to 40 volunteer missions per year, in 23 countries around the world. He plans to continue this work for at least another 10 years.
“It makes a monumental difference in a child’s life to have a cleft lip or palate repaired,” says Dr. Wilson, explaining that people with this deformity have difficulty speaking and eating, and usually either cover their faces with scarves or live as recluses. In Canada, cleft lip and palate is repaired in early infancy – in Developing nations, most families can’t afford the cost of the procedure.
D r. Wilson has travelled with Operation Smile to Africa, South America, Central America, Southeast Asia and, most recently, northern India. “It’s quite an expedition,” he says “We ship about 40 crates of equipment and supplies to the site, so we can perform the procedures at Western standards.” In addition to five or six plastic surgeons, the mission consists of about 35 other professionals, including nurses, anesthetists, dentists, speech pathologists, Pediatricians and intensive care specialists. Working 13- to 14-hour days, they perform about 150 procedures in five days.
In recognition of his ongoing commitment to Operation Smile, Dr. Wilson received the Dr. John Savage Memorial Award in International Health in July 2004. He says this is one of the more meaningful awards he has received in the 20 years since he joined the Dalhousie faculty and IWK staff. “I have the greatest respect for the late Dr. Savage ’s pioneering efforts in international health; I’m honoured to receive this award in his name.”