Smile Week helps children in need of plastic surgery

2017-08-23 06:01
Ndileka Mhlontlo with two year old daughter, Ithandile just a couple of hours after she underwent surgery during the Smile Week. Photo:Thandi Setokoe

Ndileka Mhlontlo with two year old daughter, Ithandile just a couple of hours after she underwent surgery during the Smile Week. Photo:Thandi Setokoe

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THE annual Smile Week, which provides plastic surgeons with dedicated theatre time to assist children in need of facial and other reconstruction, saw 29 children undergo surgery in Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital last week.

The Smile Foundation initiative, which is sponsored by Airport Company South Africa (ACSA), is aimed at putting a smile on the faces of the children.

“We believe that investing in the well-being of our children is an investment in our future, especially in the Eastern Cape because we are a needy province,” said ACSA manager Greg Small.

Smile Foundation is a non-governmental organisation that works with eight academic hospitals around South Africa.

“We help children who suffer from treatable facial abnormalities such as cleft lip and palate, all burns, facial paralysis and other conditions,” described operations executive director of Smile Foundation Moira Gerszt.

The Smile Weeks give the surgeons involved an opportunity to operate on many more children than on a normal weekly theatre slate, enabling more children to receive timeous surgeries.

Plastic surgeons from other academic hospitals flew to Port Elizabeth to assist with offering two theatres for surgery.

“We have a very positive and enthusiastic medical team in the Nelson Mandela Bay area.

“The doctors really go above and beyond to ensure that the children receive the best care ever.

“We want to applaud Dr Van der Walt and his team of doctors for a job well done,” Gerszt said.

Nosiviwo Zokoza, mother to 15- month-old Likum, who doctors believe has an extremely rare condition called nasal duplication, said she is relieved that the procedure went well.

“To be honest, I’m very happy. That’s why I was crying in theatre. When you’re a mom and your child has a problem it’s really frustrating because you feel helpless.”

She said she was told by other doctors that the procedure could only be done when her child was three years old.

“That didn’t sit well with me simply because I had feared that he would grow up with low self-esteem issues because of the three nostrils.

She added that the fortunate part, however, is that he didn’t suffer any health complications before the nostril duplicate correctional surgery.

“He was breathing well and didn’t have any problems.

“When I looked at him after the operation I was like, wow, the doctors have done a great job.”

Another mother, Ndileka Mhlontlo, who also saw her two-year-old daughter through surgery, shared the same sentiments.

“I was so nervous and scared while waiting in theatre, but after the operation – which lasted for almost three hours, I felt so much better,” she said.

Mhlontlo’s daughter, Ithandile was born with syndactyly, an abnormal connection or webbing of two or more fingers.

She said her child’s abnormality did not bother her, however, she was worried that when she’s older and starts going to school that other children would make fun of her.

When asked which surgeries were most challenging, plastic surgeon Dr Brian Ritchie explained, “We find that every child has a different type of challenge. Sometimes the deformities are a little bit out of the ordinary, so we have to apply a different set of judgments.

“Cleft palates are probably the most difficult ones to give the patient what they really need – and that’s speech later on in life,” he said.

Gerszt said their aim was to enable children to become positive and confident within the communities.

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