Bringing smiles to little faces

Tygerberg Hospital senior ward administrator Kathy Marlow, of Brackenfell, with Kiara Jansen.

Putting the smile on the face of a child born with a facial deformity is something the Smile Foundation takes pride in doing.

Last week, the foundation celebrated 11 years of bringing smiles to children’s faces, with several surgical procedures at Tygerberg Hospital.

According to Moira Gerszt, Smile Foundation’s operations executive director, most of the procedures from Monday November 11 to Friday November 15 were reconstructive procedures on children with craniofacial deformities with some focusing on feet and hands.

Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo said the initiative restored hope to parents who might never have been able to afford reconstructive surgery for their children.

Sharieka Jacobs,of Kraaifontein, was in Ward D3 with her son, Shafiq, 4, for a procedure on his tongue.

“He couldn’t talk, move his tongue or lift his lip. He wants to express himself but words can’t come out properly,” she said.

Shafiq was among the first of the 18 children who had procedures thanks to the Smile Foundation and its sponsors.

Ms Jacobs said they had been waiting for the operation for five months.

“We were so excited when we got the call. It’s still a long way to go. He will now have speech therapy. But his school work is very good. You would never say he cannot talk,” she said.

Shaun Thompson, who has skull and facial deformities, was at the hospital with his aunt, Olga Thompson. She described the 15-month-old as a very clever, happy, friendly little boy who loved playing and was not afraid of anything.

Shuraya Esbach, 5, had come from Beaufort West with her guardian, Shahida Willemse, for a cleft-palate operation.

Kiara Jansen, from Eersterivier was born with six fingers on each hand. Mom Chantal Jansen said her 18-month-old had had one finger removed in June and was having the extra finger on her right hand removed during Smile Week.

“I was very nervous the first time, but it went very well, and when the bandage came off, we were ecstatic,” she said.

The children have been selected from clinics and hospital referrals and Smile’s own database of those appealing to it for help.

Surgeon Dr Gideon van Tonder said many children needed multiple procedures throughout their lives due to the overlap of the oral cavity and throat. Later in life, they might need further surgery to correct swallowing or voice.

“So Smile Week is a bonus, although in the past, we had two theatre lists and only have one this year due to staffing and funding constraints,” he said.

Tygerberg Hospital senior ward administrator Kathy Marlow, of Brackenfell, said she loved her job and worked overtime to make sure everything was ready for Smile Week.

She said they usually had 32 little patients, but there were fewer this year because the second theatre was being renovated.

Smile Foundation uses 11 academic hospitals around the country, including Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, where operations took place two weeks ago, and George Hospital, where Smile Week takes place in December.

For more information on the Smile Foundation, visit www.smilefoundation.co.za or call 086 127 6453.