He decided to specialise in cleft lip and palate surgery to give children the chance of brighter and happier futures.Now, consultant plastic surgeon Christoph Theopold, one of only three cleft lip and palate specialists in Ireland, will take his skills and expertise to Pakistan next month to help charity OPSA.
He will join consultant plastic surgeon Muhammad Riaz, consultant anaesthetist Dr Zahid Rafique and theatre sister Annette Middleton for the week-long trip to Gujrat to perform surgery on scores of children and adults living with serious facial deformities.
“The idea of going abroad with OPSA appeals to me for several reasons,” said Mr Theopold. “You export your knowledge to a new place and you get to work with local surgeons.
“It’s not about doing a number of operations and then leaving, because that’s not a sustainable model. It’s more important to interact with local surgeons and to share information.
“I hope to gain from that exchange just as much as I would hope they will from me.”
Mr Theopold, who grew up in Germany, used to watch his father, an ENT surgeon, operate as a child before deciding to pursue a career in medicine.
He came to the UK to study ‘A’ levels and went on to study medicine at Oxford. However, he became interested in plastic surgery when a family friend in Munich was travelling to Burma and Afghanistan on charity missions to help people unable to afford health care.
He undertook his plastic surgery training in the Republic of Ireland, before specialising in cleft surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital and then moving to Brisbane, Australia, for a year to specialise in head and neck reconstruction in patients with tumours.
Being able to help children born with cleft lips and palates appealed to him because of the long-term contact with his patients and his ability to make a real difference to their lives.
He works at Temple Street, treating half of the 90 to 110 babies born every year in Ireland with cleft lips and palates and looks after them until they reach adulthood.
“Cleft surgery can have a big impact on patients in terms of social integration, either because of appearance or speech,” he said.
Mr Theopold, 42, heard about the Pakistan trip with OPSA through fellow surgeon Chris Hill, the Belfast-based consultant who has joined previous cleft camps, and offered his services.
“Most surgeons in under-resourced parts of the world work extremely hard because of the large number of patients per doctor,” Mr Theopold said.
“They often come up with really great methods of fixing complex problems with minimal resources. I expect to learn a lot from the local surgeons.
“I hope to be able to support this trip through surgery carried out but especially through the mutual exchange of knowledge and experience. Hopefully, this will be a useful trip for all concerned.”