A group of 25 paediatric patients from in and around the Free State are being given new hope with life-changing surgeries.Each of them were set to undergo surgery to improve facial defects during Smile Week, from 2 to 6 September, at the Universitas Academic Hospital in Bloemfontein,which is being supported by the Airports Company South Africa. Most of the surgeries undertaken are to repair children’s cleft lips and palate disorders, which is a dream come true for these children and their mothers.The challenge with children born with a cleft palate is encountered during feeding. Such babies battle to latch onto a bottle or breast, leaving them susceptible to low weight gain – which could have serious health consequences. One of the beneficiaries is Ompheletse Modise, a nine-month-old baby of Keneilwe Modise from Kroonstad. The child was operated to correct her cleft. Her mother, Modise, has expressed delight following the successful operation, which was the first. “I got hope that my child will have normal looks, as most of the children. The surgery went well and I am so grateful to everyone involved, those who funded the operation, the doctors and nurses. It is the best thing that could have happened to my little daughter,” said Modise.Another mother who has fought to give her child a better life is Tlohelang Khalane from Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. Her three-month-old daughter was successfully operated to correct her cleft nose.“I could not believe when I was told there is help for my child, but I have certainly seen it happen,” said Khalane.Lerato Tekane also struggled with feeding her daughter, Nicky, at birth. Tekane said she could not figure out what was wrong or how to help Nicky. It was only later, when she began attending school and struggling to talk, that her teacher realised she had a palate problem. Following advice from the teacher, Lerato took Nicky to a speech therapist, where palatal fistula was identified.When she was two years old, Nicky had also undergone a cardiac catheterisation, which had further revealed a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot that was affecting the ventricles in her heart. Before Nicky could have the hole in her palate repaired, she had to have cardiac surgery to restore proper cardiac functioning.That surgery was done in March this year, and following Nicky’s excellent recovery, she has been scheduled to undergo a fistula repair this Smile Week. This will give eight-year-old Nicky the chance to be just like her friends at school, and no longer feel like an outsider due to her condition.