Thirty children’s lives changed by annual initiative

2019-08-21 06:00
Justelle Kirsten (5) with her parents Christelle Gunter and Justus Kirsten.              Photo: Razaan Plaatjies

Justelle Kirsten (5) with her parents Christelle Gunter and Justus Kirsten. Photo: Razaan Plaatjies

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THIRTY children received reconstructive surgery during Smile Week at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital.

The annual initiative is run by the Smile Foundation and provides free surgery for children with facial anomalies.

This year’s major sponsor was the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA). Hedley Lewis, CEO of the Smile Foundation, said many people contributed towards making this project a success. He further said the doctors and donors play the biggest role in the success of Smile Week.

He said his hope is for more people to learn about the Smile Foundation and for more patients to be helped.

“The opportunity is not to cry for the patients here, but rather for the patients that have not come through the system,” said Lewis.

He also said we live in a materialist world and need money to make this possible.

“We are very privileged that ACSA is willing to support us,” said Lewis.

Justelle Kirsten (5), who was born with a cleft palate was fortunate enough to receive reconstruction surgery at the hospital. Her mother, Christelle Gunter, said Justelle has had three surgeries, with the help of Smile Foundation.

Gunter, who learnt about the Smile Foundation through a friend at the Cleft Friends group which is a group that supports mums with babies born with cleft palates, said, “The Smile Foundation has helped us very much.”

Gunter, who is a trained cleft palate support mum in the Humansdorp and Jeffreys Bay area, said, “I get a package together for new mums that have recently given birth to babies with cleft palates and I give them guidance.”

Humbulani Netshieneulu, senior manager at ACSA, said they started sponsoring the Provincial Hospital in 2014 and have seen the number of patients grow from 27 at the time to 30 this year.

“If there is any perception about public service, we have the Provincial Hospital as a good example,” said Netshieneulu.

He said ACSA worked with many different NGOs and they discovered that the Smile Foundation was in line with national affairs.

Doctor Chris van der Walt, Head of Plastics at Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital, said that Kirsten was one of 30 children that were operated on last week. “We are honoured to have Smile Week at our hospital,” he said.

Van der Walt who is the driving force behind the Smile Week at the hospital, said most surgeries are for cleft lips and palates, but they offered other specialised surgeries as well.

A 12-year-old girl, who was born without an external left ear, underwent the first part of a two part surgery to remove a fragment of her rib cartilage which was used to craft an ear identical to her right ear.

An 18-year-old boy underwent rhinoplasty to correct the nasal anomaly associated with cleft lip patients.

Another recipient was Anelisa Faltein (7) who was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic disorder which is characterised by deformities of the ears, eyes, cheekbones, and chin. Anelisa was born without ears.

She is too young to receive reconstructive surgery and therefore doctors decided to create ears for her from silicone, modelled on the ears of another girl of her age.


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