The Smile foundation in conjunction with the Department of Health performed reconstructive surgery on dozens of young Northern Cape children recently.
Little faces were transformed by massive smiles on the faces of 41 children, some of whom underwent reconstructive surgery last week at the Kimberley Hospital.
Forty-one children from across the Northern Cape, who are suffering from various impediments, were given the gift of a smile during Smile Week, an initiative of the Smile Foundation in collaboration with provincial Department of Health.
It was the very first time the programme was hosted in the province.
The foundation, which was established 17 years ago, said it hoped this would not be last time it would get to make a difference in the lives of Northern Cape children.
The Clinical Manager of the operating theatre at Kimberley Hospital, Doctor Esme Olivier, said last week that the initiative enabled the hospital to conduct more operations and change the lives of a greater number of patients.
“This progrmme enabled us to help a greater number of patients in one week. We were able to operate on about 20 patients in one week as there were no challenges such as theatre time or staff to conduct the operations. The foundation provided nursing staff and surgeons to assist with the procedures,” said Olivier.
She said the programme had a tremendous impact on the lives of patients in the province.
“The biggest challenge patients face is distance as the province is so vast. Kimberley Hospital is the only hospital that has a plastic surgery department. Some patients have to travel hundreds of kilometres in an attempt to get assistance for their conditions,” she said.
One patient travelled from as far as Springbok.
“We conducted operations on 27 children. The youngest child was five months old. These operations have given the children and their families new hope as some did not even realise there was something wrong with them. Other families felt isolated and believed that there was no hope for their children,” she said.
One parent, Patricia van Rooyen, whose child four-year-old child, Lee-Ann, underwent a cleft operation said she felt blessed.
“I realised after Lee-Ann’s birth that there was something wrong with her mouth. I took her back to Kimberley Hospital but they said that because she was underweight, they could not operate on her. She was just over two kilograms and we had to wait for her to get bigger. The hospital conducted an operation on her lip last year.”
Van Rooyen said that while she was worried about her child undergoing surgery, she was pleased that she was being helped.
“I dont know any other parents whose child has the same condition.”
“We stay in Santa Square and I have never seen any babies born with the same medical problem as my child. I struggled with her when she was younger as she could not breastfeed and I had to pump my breast milk into a cup and give it to her. She drank with much difficulty. I am happy that this operation will help her to lead a better life,” said an emotional Van Rooyen.
A 15-year-old Upington patient, Bianca Blaauw, said she hoped that by undergoing surgery, her fellow learners would stop teasing her.
“The learners at school often tease me because of the way I speak. They do not understand that I am suffering from a medical condition. I have over the years not allowed it to get me down but it hurt when they made silly remarks about my speech,” she said.
Bianca’s mother, Grace, said she was referred to a speech therapist, who assisted her daughter in pronouncing her words.
“I initially thought that her speech might just be delayed. The doctor later told us that there was something wrong with her pallet. They referred me to speech therapists at Doctor Harry Surtie Hospital. I am glad that this operation will address her pallet problem. She is becoming a young woman and this will greatly improve her confidence,” said Blaauw.
The Chairman of the foundation, Marc Lubner, said that the aim of the foundation was to try change the lives of the patients they assisted.
“Many forget how traumatic it is for children who are born with a facial anomalies. It has a huge impact on their social lives, which also affects their studies and how they interact with others. The operation does not only make the children look like their counterparts but also boosts their self-confidence. Some of the patients who underwent reconstructive operations are now involved in the organisation where they are assisting those who are in the same position they were. It is not just a medical procedure but also a psychological and emotional transformation these children are granted,” said Lubner.
The Head of Anaesthesia at KImberley Hospital, Doctor Phillip Anderson, shared Lubner’ sentiments.Anderson added that the operations were not just merely about repairing lips and pallets but about repairing lives.