Kids come up smiling

Tebatso Magoro (4) and Ennie Junior (5) collectively travelled 414km to get to Operation Smile in Nelspruit.

Watch the slideshow

Tebatso, from Polokwane, and Ennie Junior, from Swaziland, were born with severe cleft lips and palates — the world’s fourth most frequent birth defect.

Children like them often find it difficult to talk, eat and breathe, while constant teasing by other children often leads to low self-esteem.

With 48 other patients, Tebatso and Ennie, accompanied by their mothers, are waiting to be screened by Operation Smile doctors at the Rob Ferreira Hospital in Nelspruit. The operation’s medical volunteers repair cleft lips, palates and other facial deformities for free.


The screening helps to prioritise patients. Volunteers spend only six days in the area, so they cannot operate on everyone.

According to one of the volunteer plastic surgeons, Piet Coetzee, of the University of Pretoria, they usually select priority one and two patients. Priority one is cleft lips that everyone can see, while priority two cases have both cleft lips and palates. Patients with cranial abnormalities require complicated operations that are normally not done on short missions.

Coetzee says one of the hardest parts of his job is ‘choosing who to help and who not to help … it’s an ethical dilemma of medicine”.

Before Tebatso is assessed by two plastic surgeons his picture is taken to help them ‘measure” the likely result of the operation.

It is agreed that Tebatso is a priority one case and should be operated on. He is one of the 30 patients scheduled for surgery.

Zipporah Ngumi, anaesthetist and dean of the University of Nairobi’s medical school, is one of the volunteers. She has been working for Operation Smile since 1987, when it first visited Kenya, and has convinced her daughter, a final-year medical student, to join some of the missions.

‘I volunteer at least once a year in Kenya and I’ve done missions in the Philippines, India, Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland.”

For her, the joy is ‘to see children change their lives”.

Now it’s Ennie’s turn. Nkuna says her daughter’s condition sometimes saddens her, ‘but when I see the other children today I see that I’m not alone”.

The surgeons agree that she’s a priority two case. Anil Madaree, head of the plastic and reconstructive surgery department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says surgery will include making the child’s lip look balanced and repairing the muscle, so that she can whistle and drink through a straw.

Ennie moves on to the anaesthetists, but the doctors say her heart murmur could be a problem.

After further questioning they conclude that her case is too complicated for such a short mission.
Nkuna and Ennie can’t hide their tears. But the doctors are adamant: Ennie Junior can’t be helped — at least not now.

Programme coordinator Tamlin Grier says that on a previous mission to Madagascar, medical volunteers were heartbroken because of their inability to operate more often.

But Grier says those not chosen for surgery will be referred to a cleft-palate centre ‘to make sure every patient eventually gets help”. Ennie is referred to Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital.

Early the following morning the team sets up and it’s all systems go. Tebatso’s mom, who is clearly nervous, takes her son by the hand when his name is called. Madaree operates on the child for an hour, while his mother waits outside. The surgeon comes out of the theatre and announces that the operation was successful.

The little boy’s split lip has been sewn together. His face is heavily swollen, but doctors assure his ecstatic mother that he will heal within a week.

The child receives a get-well pack with a small mirror inside. Tebatso looks at himself and his face changes: ‘Ma look, I’m fixed!” he shouts. His mother lights up. ‘He’s finally going back to crèche,” she says, smiling.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

The idiot’s guide to the open road tolling system

The <em>Mail & Guardian</em> presents its dummies guide to the open-road tolling system explaining what you can expect.

Bright and tight: fashion trends in 2010

The <i>Mail & Guardian</i>'s Karabo Keepile looks back on the year that was and takes stock of her favourite designers, fashion and accessories.

Your favourite Mail & Guardian stories for 2010

What was 2010 made of? Sugar and spice, or slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails? We round up your favourite stories for the year based on views.

Talent on the horizon

The <em>M&G</em> profiles four emerging South African musical talents with big plans for 2011.

Holiday fun list: December 2010

Wondering how you are going to keep the children busy these holidays so that you too can enjoy your December holidays? Look no further.

Performances, fashion light up Metro FM Music Awards

The 10th Metro FM Music Awards were held in Nelspruit at the beautiful Mbombela Stadium on November 27.
Advertising

The PPE scandal that the Treasury hasn’t touched

Many government officials have been talking tough about dealing with rampant corruption in PPE procurement but the majority won't even release names of who has benefited from the R10-billion spend

ANC still at odds over how to tackle leaders facing...

The ANC’s top six has been mandated to work closely with its integrity committee to tackle claims of corruption against senior party members
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday