A nine-year-old boy had surgery at Tygerberg Academic Hospital this week to help him do something most of us take for granted – smile.
Sibabalwe Npilwani, from Malmesbury, is part of a group of 11 children with skull and facial deformities – including cleft lips and palates – having corrective surgeries at the hospital over three days on Tuesday April 23, Thursday April 25 and Monday April 29.
The procedures are paid for by two charities, Smile Foundation and BigShoe.
Sibabalwe has Apert syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes premature fusion of certail skull bones as well as fused fingers and toes. If it goes untreated, it can lead to chronic headaches, vision problems and intellectual disability.
Sibabalwe has had several surgeries since he was six-months-old to remodel his skull and separate his fingers.
The surgery on Tuesday will further change the shape of his face.
“Every child deserves the chance to smile and that is what we are doing for Sibabalwe,” said Smile Foundation chief executive, Hedley Lewis.
“Because of his condition, he feels self-conscious and, as a result, it causes him a lot of emotional distress. Hopefully, after this surgery, he can be more confident and of course, we want to see him smile.”
The children have been selected from clinics and hospital referrals and Smile’s own database of those appealing to it for help.
“Every child is unique, so we cannot promise exact dates in terms of how quickly we can help the children in need. If it is a severe case, we prioritise it, but we ensure that the waiting period is the quickest possible as we do not want people to be waiting too long for help,” Mr Lewis said.
Sibabalwe’s father, Xolani Npilwani, said he was thrilled his son was getting the help needed.
“He is a really good boy who likes to play with others, and hopefully, everything can go well so that he can grow up to be healthy.”
Sibabalwe has a 13-year-old brother and 22-year-old sister.
“The worst part of this all,” Mr Npilwani said “is that when the problems really started, he was just six-years-old and was supposed to start school.
I will be really happy if he comes out of the operation and is then able to go to school because that is something I really want for him.”
Surgeon Dr Alexander Zuhlke used computer simulation and a 3D-printed model to map the procedure. Smile Foundation uses 11 academic hospitals around the country.
BigShoe is a global organisation that works with German World Cup winning defender Philip Lahm’s charity foundation to better the lives of children through projects including sport and education.