Dr. Marc Sinclair on his attempts to help kids with musculoskeletal deformities
Time Out Bahrain staff
Dr. Marc Sinclair speaks to Time Out Bahrain about The Little Wings Foundation, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to helping kids with musculoskeletal deformities.
Tell us a little bit about yourself I studied medicine in Germany and decided to enter the orthopaedics field as I felt it was a rewarding specialty within medicine. Intact muscle and bone function is essential to leading a “normal” life and the fact that this system can be affected from birth makes it a very diverse field. I was a resident in Germany and Switzerland and eventually completed a Fellowship in Boston, USA in pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery. After four years in Germany as deputy chief at Hamburg’s Children’s Hospital my wife and I decided to take the road less travelled. We came to The Gulf seven years ago and have been here ever since.
How did the idea for Little Wings come about? The Foundation started as an idea between like minded people, as a result of living in a part of the world with great disparity in terms of accessibility to healthcare. Children tend to be the most affected in these circumstances and they are the most innocent too. This is the main reason I decided to focus on children with musculoskeletal conditions, as it limits their ability to interact with peers, attend school or help their parents in more rural agricultural societies. The burden of disability in most underdeveloped countries is exorbitant. I am privileged to have acquired skills that allow me, with the help of my fellow “Little Wingers” to lessen this burden a tiny bit.
How many people are involved in the foundation? We have the core group which is essentially about ten volunteers. Many other volunteers chip in irregularly, whenever needed and when time permits. In terms of funding, we do not actively fundraise as a charity here in the region. A lot of support comes through donations of surgical material, antibiotics and other paraphernalia and Emirates Airlines helps us with the tremendous excess luggage when we travel abroad. We do fundraise in Europe and are occasionally approached by companies in The Gul. Obviously, the more financial means we have, the more children we treat.
Tell us about the work of Little Wings The most important part of our work is the surgical missions we undertake to regions that are in demand for orthopaedic services. Our partnership with the PCRF has brought a particularly strong focus on Palestine to our foundation. The occupation leads to horrendous situations for families and especially children, an unbearable humanitarian situation really. But we are also looking at other countries -we travelled to Haiti after the earthquake to help children in need of orthopaedic surgeries and are currently looking at other options in the MENA region.
Awareness and education is also a big part of Little Wings. Can you tell us about that? Yes, many conditions such as clubfoot and congenital hip dislocation can be treated easily if detected early. Unfortunately, early detection programmes are poor and a large part of my practice here in the region is treating conditions too late, mostly leading to major surgery. Clubfoot for example, affects one to two children in 1000. This is a high number and information platforms for parents in Arabic are rare. Little Wings set up an information website in Arabic and Farsi (www.ponseti-gulf.ae) to spread information and make it clear that early detection can result in better, less surgical and most importantly, cheaper treatment.
What are the most common problems you face working with children with musculoskeletal deformities? Poverty as a result of lack of opportunities is the biggest problem we see and at the same time our greatest motivation to succeed. It’s great to see increasing awareness and inclusion of children with special needs in the region’s media, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Another issue is delayed, neglected care. The treatment available locally is often unaffordable due to cut throat health insurance policies and a lack of awareness in the community of what treatment is available.
What does Little Wings need to survive long term? The foundation needs a strong army of dedicated volunteers. Currently, we rely heavily on support from The Gul community and hospitals who have consistently given us great support over the years. Little Wings is my first project of this kind and I am curious to see where it will lead. We are an inclusive, rather than an exclusive group and the charity might go in a completely different direction if new members decide that this is what needs to happen. The dynamics bring life to Little Wings but it is its future that matters to me as a founder, more than what has been accomplished. For more information, visit www.thelittlewingsfoundation.com