A BAXENDEN couple have returned from a mercy mission which promises to change the lives of children in India suffering from cleft lips and palates.
Carol and Michael Ward left their home in Keats Close two weeks ago and headed off for Mysore, in the south of the country, for their 10th visit in as many years.
The duo were part of a nine-strong team of British surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses who travel to India every year to perform life-changing surgery on children, some as young as seven months.
Michael, 49, is a "freelance'' operating department practitioner while his wife Carol, 48, works as an anaesthetist and nurse at Gisburn Park Hospital.
The team performed 31 operations on children who are suffering from the facial deformities and the local doctors also carried out a further nine operations.
Michael explained that children, especially teenage girls, are often ostracised for having the condition and can become social outcasts.
He said: "These operations have changed their lives completely. If they don't get help they can end up being outcasts or being used for begging purposes.
"We performed an operation on a 17-year-old girl and she thanked us and said she could get married now. It can have a major influence on their lives. The work is a very humbling experience for us."
They were joined on the visit by two leading consultants Dr George Teturswamy, who works at Blackburn Royal Infirmary, and Dr Venkat Rhaman, who works in Wigan.
Michael explained each visit costs in the region of £15,000 so the group relies on donations from medical firms to carry out the work and members of the team also raise funds through charity events.
He continued: "We managed to do everything we wanted out there. But there were lots of children lining up who we just couldn't fit in. It's quite a widespread problem out in India, Pakistan and China and we don't really know what the cause is.
"We ship the equipment out before we fly out and perform the operations. There was one little boy who travelled over 200 kms to get to the camp. His dad brought him and they'd spent all their money to get there.
"By the time he arrived he had a cough and a cold so we couldn't do the operation.
"But we paid for his bus ride home and said when he settled down we would pay for the local surgeon to do the operation. It's always very upsetting but we can't do everyone. We would like to but it's just the tip of the iceberg."
The couple are now planning their next visit to the region in January next year.