Smile surgeries back on track at Tygerberg Hospital

Baby Honest was the first patient for cleft-lip surgery since lockdown.

Elective surgeries were put on hold during lockdown, but on Thursday a 7-month baby girl went under the knife at Tygerberg Hospital to correct her cleft palate.

It was the first of many such procedures that can now go ahead at Tygerberg.

Plastic surgeon Dr Alexander Zuhlke said it would likely take four to five months to clear the hospital’s backlog of patients waiting for these procedures.

“At the moment, I have about 20 patients waiting for surgery.” 

Facial deformities like cleft palates can cause breathing problems, speech impediment or prevent oxygen from reaching the brain. 

“A long-term successful outcome for a cleft lip or palate means a baby needs to be operated on within the first 12 months, especially for speech development,” Dr Zuhlke said. “Delaying the surgeries could result in long-term permanent issues including not being able to speak correctly. The postponement of these surgeries has also had a significant psychological impact on the parents and their families.” 

The mother of the 7-month-old girl, known as Baby Honest, thanked the hospital and the Smile Foundation, which raises money to cover corrective surgeries for children with facial deformities.

Hedley Lewis, Smile Foundation’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted that as we return to the ‘new normal’, desperately-needed surgeries for children with facial conditions are slowly resuming. But, the backlog is substantial and without the necessary funding, we won’t be able to reach and assist children who desperately need our assistance. We’re urging the public and corporates, to support our appeal for funds. With your help, we can work with hospitals throughout the country to ensure we assist as many children as possible.”

The foundation is running a fund-raising raffle for a R100 000 cash prize. Tickets are R100. The draw will be on World Smile Day on Friday October 2. To enter click or visit