Children with facial abnormalities given a reason to smile

2015-11-13 21:17
Hope Jaers with her mother Jaydine (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Hope Jaers with her mother Jaydine (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - Seven-year-old Hope Jaers of Wellington in the Western Cape is probably the only patient at Tygerberg Hospital excited to go "under the knife".

“When they are done, I am going to be so pretty,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. 

Hope points out a dark patch of skin on the side of her face.

“They are going to cut this off and then I am going to look nice, hey mommy?”

Jaydine Jaers smiles.

“You will be prettier, because you are pretty already.”

Hope, who suffers from Schimmelpenning Syndrome, is one of 43 children from across the Western Cape who will undergo life-changing surgeries for various facial anomalies as part of Smile Week, which is underway until November 13.

Currently one in 750 South African children is born with a facial anomaly, and the Smile Foundation has been partnering with academic hospitals in South Africa for more than 15 years to assist underprivileged children.

‘How Jesus made her’

Jaers, a single mother, was only 18 when she gave birth to Hope.

“To me, she is the prettiest child,” she says as she watches her daughter chasing a ball down the hospital corridor. 

The syndrome also affects one of Hope’s eyes and she suffers sporadic seizures.

Despite her facial abnormality, Hope is anything but lacking in confidence.

“When people ask her what’s wrong with her face, she simply tells them that this is how Jesus made her,” Jaers says.

“She has grown used to the stares. I don’t even think she notices it anymore. But I don’t want this to be my child’s life. I want her to be like other children who people don’t turn around to look at for a second time.”

In good hands

Plastic surgeon Professor Frank Graewe, who leads the team of practitioners, said it is a privilege to help someone who once struggled to fit in.

“Plastic surgery is often looked at as cosmetic. But it makes a huge change to a person – whether an adult, child or cancer survivor -  if you can go out and look the world in the face without being stigmatised,” he said.

“This surgery usually means the world to a patient. It helps them cope with life again. And when that person later comes to you, thanking and hugging you for what you have done, it’s the best feeling.”

The hospital’s partnership with the Smile Foundation means that the organisation assists in sponsoring much needed equipment to the facility.

“We previously worked with an operating microscope that was 35 years old. Smile sponsored us with a new one. 

“Plastic surgery and microsurgery is highly technical and you need skills, but also equipment.”

Reason to smile

Smile Foundation executive chairperson Marc Lubner said healthcare budgets are usually spent on treatment needed by patients for survival.

“A cleft lip from a physiological perspective is not a condition that is life threatening,” he said.

“But don’t tell a 15-year-old girl with a gaping wound in her face that she is not likely to have a boyfriend or get a job [easily].  Psychologically, that individual’s life is threatened.”

He encourages mothers with children who have facial abnormalities to “not hide their kids”.

“Step forward. Let us help change their lives forever.”

Read more on:    cape town  |  good news

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