The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Changing Someone's Life Is a Gift You Can't Take Away - Florence Kuyt

Florence Kuyt is a Pediatrician specialising in intensive care for newborns. She is part of the Operation Smile team that operates on people with cleft lips and palates and the highest number of patients with this disease are children.

In an exclusive interview with Women Today, the 58-year-old Florence narrates how she has been able to balance her passionate career and her family.

Born in Belgium in 1954, she graduated from medical school at Université Libre de Bruxelles. The eloquent Kuyt discovered she wanted to be a nurse at the age of ten.

"When I was ten years old, I read a book about a nurse who was doing amazing work and then I told my mother that I wanted to be a nurse and she said 'You are way too bossy be a doctor instead' and I said fine I will be a doctor and since then, I aimed at that," Kuyt narrates while laughing.

When asked how she spends her day back at home she says, "At home I work in the newborn intensive care. I'm also married with two sons, the eldest is twenty two years and the other one is twenty. In my free time, I like walking and I'm very social and enjoy meeting different people."

"At times it's challenging to balance work and family, but my husband, Steven Dopkin and I make a good team. It was okay before we had the children and when he was an attorney and had a home office so that helped. It was sometimes a dilemma because at some point I wanted to be with my children but had a schedule at work; he did a lot to help," Kuyt explains.

Florence also advises married couples to always embrace each other's careers and work as a team and support each other.

"When things are tough, talk about the issues as a couple and find a compromise. Understand that your partner is passionate about what they do, especially men - they need to support their wives in their careers."

As a woman who has been a doctor for the last 34 years she says, "Follow your passion, set limits and make sure you have time for your children and husband and cherish those moments. Always involve your husband and children in the beauty of what you do because then, they will help you with your work because they are proud of you. That will facilitate for when you're not at home 100%. For instance, my children would say 'my mum is not at home because she is fixing babies'. Even when they stayed at school a little longer than others, they would understand."

She further says that women also need to put their children's needs first.

"It's important to nurture good relations with your workmates so that you can help each other out when you need to address personal needs," Kuyt discloses.

"I moved to California in the US in August 1979 right after Medical School where I trained for Pediatrics. It's my first time to come to Rwanda on this mission with Operation Smile, but I have been to some other countries on different missions," Kuyt narrates.

Operation Smile is a non-profit volunteer medical organisation providing free reconstructive surgery to Rwandans with cleft lip and cleft palate disease. This is a malformation where the lip has not fused together or fully formed. More than 130 people are going to benefit from this free program.

The free cleft lip surgery started on Febraury 25th, 2013 and ends tomorrow at the University Central Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).

Regarding her trip to Rwanda, the jovial doctor Kuyt says, "I'm quite honoured to be part of the Operation Smile team, it's an incredible experience. This mission of cleft lip and palate is extraordinary because in just a few days, you can change somebody's life. To see their smile afterwards is simply wonderful. It's a gift you can't take away."

"Our greatest challenge in this mission is not being able to operate on everyone because we have to select the ones we think we can help the most in the safest way. There are other people that have a compelling story and you have to tell them you can't do anything by taking them on this mission and it's heartbreaking. Another challenge is that there are some children that we would want to operate on, but they need to be worked on by a cardiologist or get better nutrition first; we find it hard for them to get that kind of access," Kuyt expresses.

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