From humble beginnings to becoming a world renowned plastic surgeon is quite a journey in one’s lifetime. And perhaps, that in itself, would be quite an accomplishment.
However, this is a story of much more than a simple tale of rag to riches or of one man. This is a true story of how that one man affected the lives of thousands of children with his remarkable skills as a surgeon, and more importantly, his generosity as a human being.
Renowned plastic surgeon, Doctor Subodh Kumar Singh, has thus far performed just over 32,000 free corrective surgeries on children born with cleft lip/palate issues, which can render a child into a lifetime of despair, if not corrected. Under the worldwide initiative of Smile Train, the esteemed physician and his team have put smiles and laughter on the faces of over 25,000 families and their children.
Perhaps this where our story should actually start…at the beginning! Young Subodh Kumar Singh was just 13-years old when he lost his father in 1979, due to possible poor medical treatment, which plagued many rural villages at the time in India.
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Heartbroken, young Subodh and his older brother had to sell homemade soap to help pay off family debts. Soon, they were forced into moving into a small railway house where their father had worked as a clerk.
Doctor Subodh recalls those bleak days; “Whatever we received as gratuity after my father’s death was used to clear the debt. Along with my elder brothers, I sold homemade soaps and was often insulted when I asked for settling our dues.”
He recalls a few months after his father’s passing, his older brother found a job on compassionate grounds in the same railway station where his father had worked. However, the family’s finances were still in bad shape.
Nevertheless, with a little luck and lots of hard work, they managed to survive and stay together as a family. In 1982, his brother still employed at the Railways, received a bonus of $579 dollars and decided that the money should be used to pay for Subodh’s required fee for medical entrance preparation.
Subodh promised himself that his brother’s selfless sacrifice would not be in vain and studied night and day with only one goal in mind, to pass one of the three medical entrance exams that he had applied to.
However, he was surprised to learn when the test results came in that he not only passed one of the medical entrance exams, but that he passed all three, including the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC-Pune), BHU-PMT and UP state Combined Pre Medical Test (CPMT) in 1983. Subodh decided to take BHU so he could help his brother and widowed mother run a general store.
Never abandoning his humble roots, and in honor of his father, Dr. Subodh, in 2002, opened what was to become a year later The Smile Train project, notably the largest cleft surgery facility in the world.
“We set a target of 2,500 cleft surgeries by December 2005. The Smile Train India team, while considering our target too ambitious, asked us to go for just 500 free surgeries by 2005-end. We crossed that figure by 2004-end and went beyond 2,500 by the following year end,” says Dr Subodh. “Since 2008-09, we annually perform 4,000-plus free cleft surgeries under this initiative.”
The good doctor has also performed over 6,000 free extensive burn surgeries to reactivate lives of serious burn patients.