New Smiles! Surgeries Resume
Cleft surgeries and local surgical programs gradually resumed in the early part of 2021, highlighting our medical volunteers’ commitment to treating patients even under challenging conditions.
With differing impacts and responses to the pandemic in the 35 countries where we work, Operation Smile has worked closely with local hospitals and health authorities to ensure everyone is safe before, during and after surgery.
With COVID safety precautions high and patient volumes lower than normal, new smiles were delivered in the early part of 2021 in Bolivia, Colombia, China, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Paraguay.
The impact of our commitment to our patients around the world despite unprecedented challenges is reflected in Precious’ journey to her new smile!
Precious was born in Ghana in March 2019 and is the youngest of five children. Her cleft condition went undetected during her mother, Charlotte’s, ultrasounds.
The midwife in charge of Charlotte’s delivery informed her that Precious was born with a cleft lip and palate. She was shocked as the family did not have a history of cleft conditions and feared for Precious’ well-being. She also worried about the community’s reaction to her appearance. Her midwife encouraged her to have hope as Precious’ cleft condition was treatable. For Charlotte, Precious’ cleft surgery and care couldn’t come sooner. A nurse who was also an Operation Smile volunteer referred her to Operation Smile Ghana.
Charlotte was hopeful after she contacted the patient coordinator at Operation Smile Ghana and enrolled Precious in our nutrition program. She soon started receiving consultations and nutritional therapy at our care centre, which addressed Charlotte’s concerns about feeding her. Three months later, when Precious was stronger, her first surgery was scheduled. Her family was relieved and happy to see her receive her cleft lip surgery in 2019, and when it was safe in 2020, she received her cleft palate surgery.
Thanks to our generous partners who support our ongoing surgical programs, today, Precious is a happy little girl looking forward to joining her siblings at school. She is learning how to write at two years old and is full of energy. “I have a strong hope that my daughter will grow up to become a doctor to help other people as Operation Smile does,” Charlotte shared.
The statistics below reflect the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our programs, beginning in March 2020 (FY20). For the health and safety of our patients, many programs were suspended well into 2021 (FY21), and/or continue at reduced capacity. Surgical programs are resuming only when the safety of patients, volunteers and staff can be assured. Our patient registries are growing with back-logs that we hope will soon subside as operating rooms become more available.
Watch Lilia and her mom, Valeria’s cleft journey with Operation Smile.
In March 2021, Operation Smile in Mexico conducted one of its first “mini” surgical programs in the city of Puebla. Thirty-nine new patients were screened and 31 patients received surgeries over two days. Lilia was one of them. As a teacher expecting her first child, Valeria’s entire world was turned upside down when the pandemic forced school closures across Mexico. She suddenly found herself without her job and the means to support her family.
“When I was eight months pregnant, they told me,” Valeria explained. “It was clear that my daughter had a cleft lip on the right side.” The news filled Valeria with shock and guilt. Then, shortly before Lilia was born, Valeria’s husband Daniel passed away unexpectedly.
Valeria found Operation Smile in Mexico and learned how to overcome her challenges feeding Lilia during the first few months. She did everything possible to ensure her daughter would receive the cleft surgery she deserved. “I had to give it all for my daughter,” Valeria shared.
In March 2021, nine-month-old Lilia received her first surgery to repair her cleft lip. Another surgery awaits to repair her cleft palate, and little Lilia will most likely need comprehensive cleft care to fully reap the benefits of her cleft surgeries.
These surgical programs are a testament to a shared commitment to safely deliver cleft surgeries without putting patients, families, medical volunteers or staff in harm’s way. The outcome, of course, is that children received the best surgery and care, and a new smile that will change their life forever.