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New smiles for children


The operations that will be conducted on the children include cleft lip and palate repairs, hard and soft palate repairs, nasal reconstruction as well as repairs to burn wounds

TWENTY-six children from various parts of the Northern Cape will have a new reason to smile after they undergo reconstructive surgery.

The surgery has been made possible as part of the Smile Foundation’s Smile Week initiative. A cleft lip and palate repair is estimated to cost between R100 000 to R130 000.

The initiative is hosted by the Smile Foundation in partnership with the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital and the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa).

The operations that will be conducted on the children include cleft lip and palate repairs, hard and soft palate repairs, nasal reconstruction as well as repairs to burn wounds.

A nine-year-old girl from Upington, Sasha-Lee Neels, is one of the children who were selected to undergo reconstructive surgery after an accident left her with scarring to her face.

Sasha-Lee, her grandmother and her cousin were involved in a horrific accident in February last year. The grandmother and cousin died and Sasha-Lee was the sole survivor of the accident.

Sasha-Lee’s mother, Yolandi, said that she is elated that her child was selected to be one of the beneficiaries.

“I am very grateful for this opportunity. We did not even know when we came to the hospital on Monday that Sasha-Lee was selected to undergo reconstructive surgery. We only got the good news when we booked in at the hospital. The staff at the hospital could not tell me the wonderful news as I did not have a phone. I came in on Monday as that was the date for her next visit to the hospital. We had been travelling from Upington to Kimberley for almost two years in order for Sasha-Lee to get medical assistance. I am very happy for this wonderful opportunity, because if it was not for the hard work of the medical staff and the foundation, my child probably would have lived with the scars forever,” said Yolandi.

She added that although her daughter went through a very traumatic incident, it has built her character.

“I was very concerned about Sasha-Lee after the accident, seeing as she lost her grandmother and cousin at the same time. She was very close to her granny and went everywhere that granny went. After the accident I was afraid that she would go through tremendous trauma as those two lives were a great loss to our family. She in fact became stronger and more confident afterwards; she was very soft-spoken and shy prior to the accident.”

Yolandi said that her daughter wore her scars with pride and never let others make her feel ashamed because of the way she looked.

“People who do not know would sometimes stare at her scars. However, those who know her are not bothered by them, even her friends at school have gotten used to her scars. Sasha-Lee also never complained about her scars or tried to cover them up. The only problem was that the scars would become red if she spent too much time in the sun and it gets very hot in Upington.”

The CEO of the Smile Foundation, Hedley Lewis, said that this is a strategic partnership aimed at easing the medical burden of communities in the Province.

“Everyone is here to support the patients. There is a misconception that the Smile Foundation is doing all the work. That is not true, as all these parties, our partners from the private sector and the doctors as well as medical staff, are the ones who are doing the work. We should be paying tribute to the surgeons, sisters, nurses, administrators and all other medical staff who are on the ground making sure the patients are cared for,” said Lewis.

“We have to bear in mind that these children who are today the patients, are the surgeons, nurses and even presidents of the future. We need to help our communities to uplift and build them.”

The group executive for corporate affairs at Acsa, Refentse Shinners, said that they wanted to ease the burden on the parents of the children.

“We owe it to the community to share whatever success the airport has. This is a way of acknowledging and thanking the community. We have partnered with the Smile Foundation since 2014 and this year we added Kimberley, Bloemfontein and George to the list of cities of beneficiaries. It gives us great pride to give back to our people,” added Shinners.

The Northern Cape MEC for Health, Mase Manopole, thanked the foundation for its contribution.

“We are elated when we can partner with such foundations who assist in easing the medical burden,” said Manopole.

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