Changing lives in Vietnam

Eighteen years ago, a chance meeting changed Dr. David Precious’s (DDS’68, MSc‘72) life. The dean emeritus and professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery with the Dalhousie Faculty of Dentistry was at a cleft lip-palate conference in New York and made the acquaintance of Professor Nagato Natsume, director of the Japanese Cleft Palate Foundation. The two began to talk and realized they shared similar viewpoints on the condition.

“He invited me to join a Japanese delegation of surgeons going to Ben Tre, a remote but populous island in Vietnam, and operate on children with cleft lip and palate. I did and was so enthused I came back to Dalhousie and told the department I’d like to do this in a more formalized way. We became partners of the foundation and started sending delegations of surgeons to Japan, Vietnam and Tunisia to perform surgeries and train surgical residents.”

For 16 years, Dr. Precious and his colleagues have donated their time, money and skills to advance and support surgical care for children with cleft lip and palate. Realizing a more formal arrangement was in order, he created the Elizabeth F. Precious Endowment. Named for Dr. Precious’s wife, who has been inspirational since the outset, the fund will allow for the continuance of helping children who otherwise might not receive medical attention.

“If you’ve worked with these children, you know they are mainly wonderful, normal kids with a minor problem everyone can see. Sometimes, in developing countries, ministers of health have such huge lists of health concerns they cannot see devoting public resources to cleft lip and palate.”

Dr. Precious acknowledges the support he’s received from Dalhousie has helped his outreach efforts. “I don’t know if this would have been possible at another major university in Canada. There’s a special flexibility and appreciation to foster this type of activity here.”

Now looking to expand to other countries, Dr. Precious ultimately hopes that surgeons in host countries will develop the skills to do cleft lip and palate surgeries on their own. “That’s happened in a number of villages. That’s how we measure our success.”