NEW YORK–Children who are born with cleft lip and palate are often bullied, ridiculed, and even shunned in certain cultures around the world. This orthodontist experienced the bullying, and now she’s traveling back to her home country to help children in need.
Dr. Shenjuti Chowdhury, from Bangladesh, is an award-winning orthodontist at Diamond Braces. She was born with cleft lip and palate, and she had an inspirational orthodontist who she admired greatly.
Cleft lip and palate is a common birth defect, and there are 300,000 children in Chowdhury’s native Bangladesh with untreated cleft lip and palate.
Coming to America
As a child in Bangladesh, Chowdhury had been bullied for having cleft lip and palate, which is part of what has motivated her to return to give back.
Chowdhury vividly remembers coming home from school in tears because other children wouldn’t play with her and because she was bullied for her condition.
When she was born, she had a failed partial palate surgery. However, when she came to the United States in 2002 at age 16 she received more comprehensive treatment. Furthermore, the bullying wasn’t as severe.
By age 20, her treatment had been completed.
“It was a life changing experience. I felt like a different person. It gave me more confidence, and it made me a stronger person because I had to go through a lot of adversities. It wasn’t an easy childhood,” Chowdhury told The Epoch Times.
While studying at Columbia University she found out about a program called Smile Bangladesh, which helps treat children with cleft lip and palate in Bangladesh.
“It’s a mission that’s very close to my heart because I’m from Bangladesh, and I know how difficult it is to achieve proper care back home,” Chowdhury said.
Without Smile Bangladesh, these patients wouldn’t receive any treatment. Furthermore, they would not be able to afford treatment even if it was available.
Having been a cleft lip and palate patient herself, Chowdhury felt like she could empathize with the patients. Furthermore, she is able to read, write, and speak the language.
Chowdhury went on her first trip with Smile Bangladesh in March 2012, and has volunteered on four trips total.
Giving a Smile
While in Bangladesh Chowdhury translates for the patients and their families, establishing communication between them and the doctors. She also assists in surgeries and in patient recovery.
Much like Chowdhury, these patients have suffered significant ridicule, and she tries to empathize with them and show them how far she has been able to come despite her own cleft lip and palate.
Moreover, the mother of the patient may be blamed for the deformity. Sometimes the bullies aren’t other children, but the family members themselves.
“A lot of the time, these patients, they’re very heartbroken, they don’t have confidence, they get bullied a lot, and they feel like they can’t do much in life,” Chowdhury said.
Chowdhury tries to tell the patients and their parents that cleft lip and palate is a simple deformity that can be corrected, and that the patient has the ability to achieve the same goals and be as intelligent as any other child.
Chowdhury has had many memorable experiences, but one in particular has stuck with her.
There was a patient with cleft lip and palate who thought he would never get married as a result of the condition.
However, after his successful surgery Chowdhury found out he had gotten married while on her following trip. No matter who she treats, she always tries to tell her patients that they’re not lesser than anyone else.
“I always try to inspire them, instill confidence in them, and give them hope,” Chowdhury said.