See, Hear, Smile! in Riga

From Friday 14th of June to Saturday 15th, Riga, Latvia was the place to be for the OI community. On Friday, the sun was shining, temperatures were high, people in the streets wore summer clothes and highly-needed sunglasses, stopping every now and then to appreciate the beauty of the city or some refreshments at a café’s terrasse…

All the ingredients for a perfect trip were gathered. However, while the typically Baltic charm of Riga alone is an excellent reason to book a flight to the Latvian capital city, it is a for a totally different purpose that people came from all over the world to the Riga Tallink Hotel. In the lobby of the hotel, you hear English, Swedish or Norwegian among other languages; you see people greeting each other with hugs and kisses; you see the hotel’s staff preparing a conference room with the help of several OIFE and LOIB volunteers. In other words, you would be correct to guess that something is about to happen…

What is actually happening is the See, Hear, Smile Topical meeting, the first OI meeting organized in the Baltic states, and the people happily talking and greeting each other in the lobby are a mix of patient representatives, OI experts, professionals and volunteers, impatiently waiting for the conference to begin. Together they are more than 80 and come from 22 different countries.

Participants of topical meeting See, Hear, Smile!This year, the chosen topics of the conference are dental, hearing, vision and craniofacial issues of OI, which appears to be particularly interesting, as these issues tend to be less frequently discussed in comparison to strictly bone-related matters. For Rafael Barão, an ophthalmologist resident in Lisbon who discussed ocular changes in OI in a Portuguese population during his presentation on Friday, the conference is a great opportunity to move slightly away from the bones and focus on equally important – tho often less investigated – aspects of OI.

Bente L. Langdahl, an endocrinologist from Aarhus (Denmark) who addressed eyes and OI findings from a Danish study, goes in the same way and even confessed being slightly surprised that there ‘are still big areas where we do not know a lot’. Hand in hand, and this won’t be a surprise for anyone, everybody seems to agree that the topics have been carefully and rightfully chosen.

At 9am, the opening session begins with a welcoming speech by Kristofer Andersson, Dace Liepina, and Ingunn Westerheim. The program of Friday focuses first on teeth and jaws. As it will be the case for the following sessions, anonymous patient testimonies serve as introductions to specific challenges: personal issues, experience with professionals and care, questions they might have, and so on. The richly illustrated lectures that follow address topics ranging from clinical perspectives, prosthodontics treatments, to multidisciplinary approaches to oral health and function in rare diseases among other matters. Questions are often being raised, showing great interest from participants – always a sign of successful and interesting presentations.

Beside lectures, coffee breaks and lunches are also particularly appreciated, as it is the occasion for attendees to casually meet each other and discuss their own perspectives and experience. Thadé Goderie for instance, an ENT surgeon/otologist at VUmc (Amsterdam), stresses that this is a unique opportunity to interact with patients and patient representatives, as well as with colleagues from other disciplines, and to discuss current best practices that take place in other countries. The afternoon sessions then address craniofacial issues and eyes related to OI, ending the day with the presentation of posters realized by Jasmine May Cachia Mintoff, Nuria Gallardo-López, and Andrea Martín-Vacas on different studies being conducted on dental or craniofacial topics.

At 7pm, after having been given some time to relax and eventually freshen up, participants were invited to gather for a welcoming reception and a networking dinner. The atmosphere is undoubtedly friendly and naturally leads to people top open up easily to each other again. As suggested by Ingunn Westerheim, the goal here is not to sit with the people you already know. Rather, it is the opportunity to make new connections, and so guests were invited to enjoy a glass of champagne and a three-course meal dinner with people they perhaps would not have met in other circumstances. In a way, in addition to the various lectures that were held in the conference room, one could say that this – the social side of the See, Hear, Smile meeting – is one of the main strengths of such an event; and it makes no doubt that everybody enjoyed this opportunity.

On Saturday, at 9am sharp and after a well-deserved resting time, participants were introduced to the sessions related to hearing challenges in OI. With presentations related to topics as varied as findings from a Danish study, treatments and follow-up methods, surgery or hearing aids, the conference addressed the hearing matters comprehensively, with once again many questions being raised and interest being vividly shown.

Shorter than the day before, the session was also the opportunity for attendees to discover CastPrint, a Latvian company, and its impressive and promising 3D printing technology. Indeed, fractures being especially prevalent among OI patients, CastPrint introduced attendees to its cutting-edge technology consisting of 3D-printed fixation solutions, which by the way happen to be eco-friendly on top of being particularly innovative. Shortly before 2pm, time for goodbyes arrived. After a last presentation by Armaana Ahmad and a closing statement, attendees were invited to grab a to-go lunch carefully prepared by the hotel. Many of them took time to discuss some final thoughts on the conference and the topics that were addressed before either going to the airport to catch their flight or, for the luckiest ones, to have a walk in the city to eventually discover the beautiful Riga under the same bright sun as the one that was shining when they arrived.

Written by: Julien Delaye – OIFE Intern

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