Operation Smile South Africa recently completed another successful surgical programme at Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mbombela. Over the weekend of 17-19 May, in partnership with the Mpumalanga Department of Health, MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, and a dedicated team of medical volunteers from across South Africa, we performed 24 surgeries. In addition, three adult patients were fitted with dental obturators.

Our volunteer plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaesthesiologists, paediatricians, nurses, dentists, and therapists worked alongside the hospital’s paediatric ward, theatre and dental staff to deliver compassionate care to patients and their families. All free of charge.

This was made possible by the generous support of our partners and donors.

Joy and relief

After her five-month-old son, Mpelo, received lip surgery, his mother Promise Thembelihle Mathebula (32), shared her joy and relief.

“I was born with a cleft lip and palate and experienced severe bullying and isolation growing up,” she said. “I received surgery through Operation Smile in 2016. So when my son was born with the same condition, I knew they were the best people to help us.”

While her son received cleft surgery, Promise was fitted with a dental obturator to improve her smile.

Dental care during surgical programme

Over the weekend, children up to 12 years old were able to get free dental care from the Rob Ferreira Hospital Oral Health team. The team treated 81 children and used the opportunity to teach them good oral hygiene.

Spearheading the programme was Dr Marius van der Walt. Head of dental at Rob Ferreira Hospital, van der Walt is a long-standing volunteer. He has served on over 30 Operation Smile surgical programmes around the world.

“It’s such a blessing to be part of a team that truly changes people’s lives,” he said. “Each surgical programme reminds me what is truly important in life: helping others and appreciating the things we take for granted, like having a normal, healthy child.

“My favorite moment is when the parents see their child directly after surgery for the first time. Tears of joy flow, knowing they don’t need to hide their child from society any longer.”

Operation Smile surgical programme the essence of humanity

Another local doctor, anaethetist Dr Caroline Robertson, joined our volunteer team last May. “The Operation Smile surgical programme involves a diverse team of professionals,” she said. “Together, we provide comprehensive care and transform the lives of these children and their families. It’s incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by such compassionate and dedicated individuals. This truly embodies the essence of humanity.”

Skills transfer

Beyond these essential surgical and dental interventions, Operation Smile prioritises the transfer of knowledge and skills to local health professionals. In this way, we help elevate the standard of medical competence in cleft care and surgery within the region.

“We provide training opportunities on each surgical programme,” explains our Executive Director, Sarah Scarth.  “Basic life support training and paediatric advanced life support training is provided for hospital staff and volunteers. We  host education workshops to facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge. And we also invest in training Community Healthcare Workers in cleft identification and pathways to care.”

Thank you from the people of Mpumalanga

MEC for Health in Mpumalanga, Ms Sasekani Manzini, said, “The Mpumalanga Department of Health welcomes Operation Smile at Rob Ferreira Hospital. We know that members of the community with cleft lip and palate will be assisted and a smile brought back into their faces.

“Above all we are grateful for the learning opportunity and the skill transfer that happens whenever Operation Smile visits our province.  We are proud that one of our hard-working and highly committed employees, Dr Van Der Walt, is part of the team.

“In addition, we appreciate the dental services provided to school children over the weekend.  As a political Head of the Mpumalanga Department of Health, I truly value the support from the organisation. On behalf of people from Mpumalanga, we thank you.”

MySchool MyVillage My Planet

“Few experiences are as profoundly impactful as being able to provide life-altering surgery to people in need,” says Naeema Alexander, from MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet CSI Implementation.

“We are thrilled to join forces with Operation Smile, leveraging the unwavering support of our customers and partners, to extend safe surgical interventions to these children and their families. This is our fourth sponsored surgical programme, as we strive to elevate medical proficiency across the region.”

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