Facial reconstructive surgeries bring smiles to more than 100 children

By Yolanda Moyo

GIVING birth to a baby with deformities such as cleft lip and palate is a burden too heavy to bear for most mothers as it comes with stigma.

The thought of facing judgmental people every day was stressful for Shorai Shumba (not her real name), who comes from Buhera after she gave birth to a baby with cleft lip and palate.

It was a new phenomenon to her and fellow villagers, but the worst experience was the stigma from society which left her with a heavy heart.

News about Operation of Hope coming to Bulawayo got to her but she could not afford the travelling expenses.

She tried to seek for help from her family but she was shut-out as they believed it was a curse.

“When l gave birth l became a laughing stock in my village. What hurt me most is that my family shut me out,” said Shorai.

As she travels back to Buhera, Shorai is eager to face all her critics and change the perception in society.

Shorai’s baby is among more than 100 people that benefited from the Operation of Hope annual exercise conducted by a group of foreign surgeons.

With a total of 143 children having undergone successful corrective surgery, there is an aura of happiness in the ward at Mpilo Central Hospital as parents whose children have been assisted wait to be discharged.

“My baby had difficulties in breathing and l am happy that finally he can breathe and be like every child. I am truly grateful for this. As you can see, my baby can eat normally now. He could not eat properly, the food would come out from the nose, his situation affected his growth,” said a relieved mother.

For the doctors, their motivation comes from bringing back smiles on people who are born with cleft lip and palate.

We have been coming here for quite some time and we come to help people who cannot afford to pay for the operations for free as they are expensive,” said a surgeon with Operation of Hope.

Another noted, “It has been a good experience to operate people and see people smiling after the operation.”

The surgeons also assisted people with severe burns, with one man from Filabusi who had severe facial and arm burns grateful for the free surgery.

“I was herding cattle and somehow, l could not find the cattle. Looking at the distance l had walked l decided to sleep in the bush so that the next morning I would continue to search for the animals. I lit fire and feel asleep. l do not know what happened but when l woke up l was burning. From February l have been admitted at UBH and when these doctors came, l was transferred to Mpilo and received help as the doctors have worked on my face and my body,” said Khulekani Sibanda, another beneficiary.

The coming of the doctors to Mpilo Central Hospital is also a learning experience for resident doctors.

“It has been a good experience for me. I have learnt a lot. Having to be part of this team is a great learning experience,” said one Mpilo doctor.

Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy.

A total of 143 people have so far gone under the knife with the team of surgeons expected back in the country next year.