No fewer than 23 people with cleft lip and cleft palate – most of them children – were given new smiles last weekend at Rob Ferreira Hospital, Mbombela.

Operation Smile’s team of medical volunteers from across South Africa worked in partnership with the Mpumalanga Department of Health supported by our generous donors to make the Mbombela surgical programme possible. Our volunteers included specialist plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaethetists, paediatricians, nurses, dentists, speech therapists and psychosocial professionals.

Patient Screening

Teaming up with medical staff at the hospital, we screened patients on Friday 19 May, and performed surgeries over the following two days. Each young patient and their parent or guardian received the highest quality of compassionate care at no cost. We also provided transport, accommodation, meals, medical examinations and post-surgical evaluations.

But patients weren’t the only ones to benefit. Our surgical programmes offer local medical professionals and surgical registrars the opportunity to learn from the experts.

Operation Smile Surgical Programme changes lives

Without surgery, children born with clefts face serious and debilitating health problems. They will likely also suffer emotional abuse and isolation.

Ideally, corrective surgery should be carried out within the first 18 months of life. But in many parts of South Africa, the public health system is over-burdened and under-resourced. Safe surgery is not always freely available or accessible. And a child may have to wait years for the chance to live a normal life.

“The longer a child born with a cleft must wait for surgery, the more serious their health, developmental and psychological problems will be,” explains Sarah Scarth, Executive Director of Operation Smile South Africa.

Fortunately, a cleft lip can be repaired in as little as 45 minutes. Less than an hour to improve a child’s quality of life and their ability to eat, breathe and talk! Surgery also improves physical appearance, and reduces the secondary impact on hearing, speech and language development.

Committed to reducing cleft surgical waiting times

“Everyone born with a cleft deserves access to safe surgery and comprehensive care,” said Scarth. “We are committed to reducing cleft surgical waiting times. Working with the Mpumalanga Department of Health and Rob Ferreira Hospital is crucial to providing high-quality cleft care at no cost to patients in the area.”

MEC for Health in Mpumalanga, Ms Sasekani Manzini, welcomed the partnership with Operation Smile. “We take pride in our children and aim to bring back the smile on their faces,” she said.

Support from MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet

MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet General Manager, Pieter Twine, said, “Our programme is all about making a difference. And there are few things more life-changing than being able to offer transformational surgery to young people in need.

“Operation Smile does phenomenal work. We’re excited to partner with them – off the back of no-cost donations by our members – to bring safe surgery to these children and their families. Another benefit is supporting the education and training of local medical professionals through the transfer of surgical skills and techniques.”

Thank you to all who came together to make this possible

The Mbombela Surgical Programme was made possible thanks to the incredible support of many donors, including @richardkohleradventures @myschool_sa @ciplafoundation @europcar @flyairlink @aramex @dhlafrica @msc @naturefresh @saahip@smile904fm @activealignerssa; Dan Meyer; Cipla – MilesforSmiles @mpactrecycling @southernsunhotels Robert Bolus (Bob’s Bay2Bay Challenge)).   We were warmly welcomed and supported by many local Mbombela businesses who helped us ensure our volunteers and patients were well nourished during the weekend programme.

“A huge ‘thank you’ to I’Langa Mall and their tenants Mugg and Bean; Cappuccinos and Doppio Zero; Crossing Mall and their tenants Lupa Osteria and Super Spar; Southern Sun Mbombela, Easy Stay and Woolworths,” said Scarth. “All of them partnered with us to make a difference in the lives of children they’ve never met.”

The successful Mbombela surgical programme at Rob Ferreira Hospital has left us inspired and determined to do more. With the help of our generous donors and volunteers, we are committed to changing more lives, and improving how health systems deliver surgical care.

Click here for more photographs of the weekend.

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