“IT was really nice to see Ainul (Ainul Mardhiah Ahmad Safiuddin) and the family doing well. She was smiling, she’s recovering well!” said Juling Ong, consultant craniofacial and paediatric plastic surgeon, who visited the family at their home in Melaka recently.
Ong, was one of 12 surgeons and anaesthetists who successfully removed a 200g germ cell tumour from Ainul’s mouth in a five-hour operation at the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) here on June 10th last year.
Ong was on a holiday in Malaysia with his family when he was reunited with Ainul, who is now one-and-a-half-years-old.
“I wanted to see for myself how they were doing and to examine her up-close. She’s healthy and growing well,” he said in a WhatsApp message.
Ainul’s father, Ahmad Safiuddin Ahmad Razak, had posted news of the visit on his Facebook in great detail.
Safiuddin said Ong was concerned about the position of Ainul’s tongue because the tumour had squeezed into it, and it could be crooked because of that, but was relieved that wasn’t the case. Ong had also checked Ainul’s mouth and found the swelling had reduced.
Ong certainly has a soft spot for Ainul, the helpless 9-month-old baby that he first saw last year. She was then the same age as his youngest daughter.
Not long after the operation, Ong had agreed to an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times in which he reflected on the preparations before the big day and how it went.
“When I saw her, I realised how small she was. And to put it in perspective, she was smaller than a new born baby, even at 9 months. And part of that weight was the tumour. We had to be realistic. Understanding the huge risks of such a large operation on a tiny baby was something we thought about a lot. Would the treatment cause her more injury than the tumour? In the end, we felt that surgery was the best option,” said Ong.
Ainul was in a bad condition when she arrived at the hospital.
“She had respiratory infection. She had this massive tumour and had lost a lot of weight, way below what her healthy weight should have been,” he added.
Ong said before the operation, there was a lot of preparation involved, especially since the objective was to remove as much of tumour as they could, without endangering Ainul’s life.
“If, during the operation she had bled profusely, we would have aborted it. But we, the team of surgeons, including ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialists and two anaesthetists, were prepared. We had requested the blood bank to be on standby in case of a catastrophic situation. We even had a plan C — a radiologist to perform interventional medical procedures — if we were unable to stop any bleeding,” said Ong, who grew up in Penang until the age of 16 before he was sent off to study in Cheltenham, England, the place where his mother came from.
Ong said the team had to factor in the small chance of a stroke and long term injury during the assessment of tests, but thankfully the surgery went well.
As a consultant craniofacial and paediatric plastic surgeon, who received his training at the famous Mount Vernon Hospital, Ong had worked on similar cases before. He was also one of the surgeons involved in the operation that separated conjoined twins Safa and Marwa Ullah, of Charsadda, Pakistan. The twins underwent three major operations to separate their heads at GOSH.
All the operated cases were different, said Ong, adding that in Ainul’s case, some of the problems they anticipated did not happen.
“We used a fairly large surgical approach, which was to split the jaw which gave us good surgical access to the area where the tumour was. Because of the preparations we made and taking into account the risks, as well as having the right team — we were able to deal with the extremely complex procedure of surgically removing the tumour, ” explained Ong who had, from the onset said that he would continue to monitor Ainul’s progress.
Ong had considered following his father, Ong Peng Nam’s, footsteps in becoming a businessman. Later on his scuba diving hobby almost had him pursuing a career in marine biology, however, after treating burn patients at a hospital in Australia, he decided his calling was in plastic surgery.
“I then became interested in skin grafting, the surgical procedure in which a piece of skin is transplanted from one area to another, a specialty of plastic surgery,” he recalled.
The NST learnt that Ong’s trip back to Malaysia isn’t just a holiday. Ong is a visiting surgeon at the Island Hospital in Penang, where he is also involved in humanitarian work. But his volunteerism doesn’t stop there.
The plastic surgeon is among the group of specialists and doctors in “Facing the World”, a United Kingdom-based charity that promotes life-changing surgery for children with facial differences, since 2008. Ong has been on three missions to Vietnam, where he and fellow surgeons and doctors operated on children with wide range facial deformities, including craniomaxillofacial trauma, cleft lip and palate, vascular malformations and haemangiomas of the head and neck.
He was also one of the many surgeons who treated victims of tragic incidents in London, like the London bombing.
Ong’s checks on baby Ainul are on humanitarian grounds, his services are free.
Although he had spent most of his life abroad, Ong says he is proud to be a Malaysian, and especially proud of the generosity of Malaysians involved in cases like baby Ainul and their volunteerism spirit, referring to the team of volunteers who helped bring Ainul and her parents to London for the operation — an operation that made a remarkable change in their lives.