The power of one person to make a difference is astronomical, even when their efforts may seem small at first. One shining example of this is Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh, who overcame disadvantages in his own childhood to later become a doctor and founded his own hospital. Now, the philanthropic surgeon is famed for his life-saving plastic surgeries that have helped change the lives of thousands of children in India suffering from a cleft lip and cleft palate.
When he was a child, Singh lost his father at the tender age of 13, which left his family in dire financial straits. The doctor now speculates that his father’s untimely death was likely due to inadequate medical care. But after losing their father, his older brothers had to give up their education in order to work and support the family. As the youngest of four children, he helped his brothers in any way he could, but mostly by selling homemade candles, soaps, and goggles in local shops and on the streets.
After having to sacrifice their own dreams, Singh’s brothers wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t have to do the same. They did their best to make sure he stayed in school to receive an education. And when the time came, they helped support him financially as he pursued his medical degree. However, the young medical student also worked while he was in school and continued to help out with family responsibilities, such as taking care of their widowed mother who was often ill.
After completing his studies in general surgery with a specialization in plastic surgery, Dr. Singh decide to establish a small hospital in his father’s memory. He called the facility G.S. Memorial Hospital. And it was there that he began offering free medical camps one week every year—on the anniversary of his father’s death—to aid families with babies born with a cleft lip. “In every cleft child who has come to me, I have visualized that little Subodh, who lost his father when he was only 13,” Dr. Singh recounts. “My father…and mother…taught me to serve the poor and live ethically. I feel God made me a plastic surgeon and not a businessman to serve a divine cause.”
“My childhood gave me the strength to build resilience and develop an understanding for people who undergo a daily struggle,” he explains. “The hardships made me perceive their emotions and relate to them. Becoming a doctor put me in a position to help many. I wanted to make the lives of the less privileged people better.”
After Dr. Singh started performing free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries, his efforts came to the attention of Smile Train, the largest charitable organization for cleft palate surgery in the world. Since 2004, the surgeon has been a part of the Smile Train project. And with the support of the charity, his hospital was able to perform more than 2,500 surgeries by the end 2005 alone. Since 2008, G.S. Memorial Hospital has gone on to perform more than 4,000 free cleft surgeries every year under the initiative.
Furthermore, Dr. Singh also became a global trainer and speaker for Smile Train, and his hospital has become a major center for surgeons from across the world to train in cleft lip and palate surgeries. As part of his rehabilitation efforts, the inspiring surgeon went on to develop an outreach program that tracks children who have been treated for cleft palate in order to continue helping their families monitor each child’s health and nutrition. His efforts have helped return the smiles of 37,000 children through free cleft palate surgeries, even inspiring an Academy Award-winning documentary on the life of a young girl named Pinki—one of the thousands of children he’s treated.
All in all, the plastic surgeon’s life is truly inspiring. His groundbreaking work not only helps children heal medically but also completely transforms their lives, opening up a world of opportunity that was previously closed to them due to the stigma surrounding the condition. “Cleft is a social ailment; it affects not just an individual but the entire family,” Dr. Singh explains. “It is important to make society realize that cleft is an ailment, not a curse and that it can be repaired, free, at hospitals like ours.”