Use Your Own Past Experiences to Give Something Back

Last year I attended an annual event of a foundation in Chicago. Their aim is to raise money for children in the area who are born with several cranio-facial issues.
Seeing fantastic work that's been done by the team of surgeons inspired me to write a few words given my own history.

To give you a brief account of my story, I was born in 1984 in London with several complex issues - the two major ones being a severe bilateral cleft lip and palate, craniosynostosis and hypertelorism. There were other issues too and it was this unique combination that left the doctors struggling to actually find what the condition was.

My first surgeries happened at 3 months old to correct the cleft, and the first major operation was at 6 months old at Great Ormond Street Hospital after it became apparent that I had hydrocephalus due to cranial pressure. Despite the success of the surgery, I contracted meningitis a few months later. Thanks to the quick thinking of my parents, I made a full recovery.

Over the next few years, various smaller operations were done in preparation for a massive craniofacial procedure, which despite the risks involved, had to be done.

Because of my parent's never-ending perseverance, the pioneer of cranio-facial surgery himself, Dr Paul Tessier, performed this operation in Paris in 1993. It was only when I grew up that I realised the significant role this extraordinary surgeon played in my life - he laid the foundations for the future operations.

Following a few further operations over the next few years, including maxillofacial surgery, the next stage of major reconstructive surgery brought us to America in 2002 - to Chicago to be exact, where I was operated on over a period of about 5 years to reconstruct my nose.

In 2005, we travelled to Los Angeles where I had my last major procedure. A few smaller surgeries followed in the years after. When Dr. Tessier first met me, as a 5 year old, he had predicted that I would be undergoing surgery at least until my 21st year - a prediction that proved about right.

The results are remarkable and I feel very fortunate - firstly for having parents who stopped at nothing to get the best for me and as a result of that, to have been operated on by some of the very best surgeons in the world.

I'm also very fortunate in having an amazing sister who was there for me every step of the way. I may have gone through the surgeries, but it was a journey the 4 of us made together from the first to final operation. Those endless hours in hospital waiting rooms went by slowly I heard.

By my own admission, I haven't done enough to support causes like this foundation's and, having now attended their event, and will be attending this year's one as well, I wanted to do my bit by writing this for parents whose children might face similar challenges to the ones I did.

As someone who has been through around 50 procedures, I hope this will help them get through the difficult and challenging stages of any future surgeries they have to watch their children go through. It will all be worth it in the end - especially with the team of surgeons they have.

My admiration for doctors/surgeons who dedicate their lives and careers to helping others grows more and more the older I get.

At home in London, where I grew up, we had a long table in our hallway. My Dad used to use it as a way of showing me how far we'd come. I hope those parents can all use a similar analogy as their kids grow up. In the end, all those stays in hospital will become a distant memory.

Christian John Hadjipateras

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