Facial surgery: Hope for the girl who can’t smile

2013-01-25 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — Akhona Zondi (8), of kwaMashu, couldn’t smile on her birthday earlier this month. She suffers from moebius syndrome, a rare type of facial paralysis.

However, unlike most sufferers, Akhona was born with both sides of her face paralysed. “She couldn’t close her eyes properly and her friends always asked why her face was different,” said her mother Ignatia.

She and her husband Stanley, both teachers, were at Akhona’s bedside at Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital yesterday as doctors discussed her operation.

A muscle was taken from her thigh and in a complicated, day-long procedure by plastic surgeon Dr Craig Wittstock, implanted in her right cheek to reanimate it. The muscle must take over the job of 18 paralysed facial muscles. In six months’ time, the same procedure will be repeated on her left cheek.

It is estimated that fewer than 20 in a million babies are born with moebius syndrome.

The operation was done free of charge as part of the Smile Foundation’s programme of repairing facial deformities in children. The foundation’s ­Moira Gerszt said they had repaired paralysis in 40 moebius syndrome sufferers, of whom 30 were children.

Her parents look forward to Akhona’s schoolmates not being able to tease her over her emotionless face anymore.

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