When Rona held her newborn son, David, for the first time at a small clinic in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, she noticed that he had a gap in his upper lip. Rona was upset with the clinic staff, assuming they had carelessly injured her son with their instruments. The nurses assured Rona that the “gap” was actually a cleft lip and that it had been formed in the womb.
Rona had many questions about cleft lip and what treatment options were available for David, but the staff were unable to answer most of them. They did, however, know that the staff at Smile Train’s local partner, Harare Hospital, were experts on cleft and would be happy to help.
Rona remembers her first consultation visit to Harare Hospital very vividly; she considers it the moment her despair turned into hope. “When we walked in, we saw children who had already received cleft surgery – they were laughing and playing. There were so many families in our same situation. The doctors answered every one of our questions and comforted us,” she said.
When Rona returned home, she learned that her friends, family, and neighbours had many of the same questions about cleft that she had asked at the clinic. “They never criticised me; they were just curious about David’s cleft. Every time I left the house, I was answering questions about David’s cleft to someone new. I also told them that they should send any other children with an untreated cleft to Harare Hospital,” she said.
Rona said she felt prepared when David’s cleft surgery finally came, but it still was an emotional day. She shared, “They put him in a gown. I held his hand while they administered the anaesthesia. Then they wheeled him away.” The longest minutes of Rona’s life were made better by phone calls from her friends and family – many reminded Rona of her own stories that she’d shared of children leaving Harare Hospital totally transformed.
Rona met David in the recovery room as he woke from anaesthesia. “Even in bandages, he looked amazing.” Then, before leaving the hospital, the medical staff shared how to properly care for the sutures and scheduled a check-up in a few days to ensure that everything was healing as it should.
“When the stitches came out, all of our family and neighbours came over to our home and shared how the result was even better than they expected,” Rona said.
“Without Smile Train’s support, our family would never have been able to afford cleft treatment. I have learned from other patients at the hospital that growing up with an [untreated] cleft is incredibly difficult. I want to thank the donors from the bottom of my heart for saving my son from that kind of hardship.”
About Smile Train
Smile Train is an international children’s charity with a sustainable approach to a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate.
Many children with untreated clefts around the world live in isolation and have difficulty eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking. Cleft treatment is safe, and the impact on the child is immediate.
Seeing the flaws in mission-based models, Smile Train was the first cleft-focused organisation with a model of true sustainability – providing training, funding, and resources to empower local medical professionals in 90+ countries to provide 100%-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities.
Through our sustainable “teach a man to fish” model, Smile Train is not only raising the standard of cleft care and safety – we’re setting it. The support we provide has elevated the standards of care for cleft patients at our partner hospitals around the world.
With the help of our donors and partners, Smile Train has supported safe and quality cleft care for 1.5+ million children since our founding in 1999, and will continue to do so until every child in need with a cleft has access to the care they deserve.
To support Smile Train through your Rotary club and change the world one smile at a time, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3805 7788.
Find out more by visiting Smile Train’s website.