Xi’an, China – For some people four years is a short period of time. For a surgeon four years is not time enough to achieve his degree. For Smile Train it is just a third of the time since it began providing cleft surgeries in China. However, for a child with a cleft, four years can change his fate. Four years helped Hua Tai’an and his family get through sadness and helplessness to happiness and hope.
Hua Tai’an was born in July 2006 with both a cleft lip and a cleft palate in Xianyang City, China. Not long after his birth, Hua’s father began to seek treatment for his son. The family used all their savings to pay for Hua’s cleft lip surgery, which still left Hua’s nose slightly misshapen. They had no money left to afford surgery to repair his palate. Luckily, not long after, Hua’s father learned of free cleft surgeries being provided at Smile Train’s earliest partner hospital in his province—Stomatological Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University.
The hospital’s staff was struck by the appearance of father and son when they arrived at the hospital. The child was beautiful, while the father was old, with long and shaggy hair. He seemed to be very poor. Despite making the journey with his son to the hospital, Hua’s father was still skeptical that surgery could be free in such a large hospital in a big city like Xi’an, especially because the first surgery had cost his life savings. The doctors told the father that, “Smile Train pays for you so that you can enjoy the free surgery.” The father was still rather in doubt about this, but allowed the surgery to be done.
On July 8, 2008, Hua Tai’an, who was now two years old, received a successful surgery to repair his cleft palate.
As time passed after the surgery the father found that his child was still unable to play with other children because Hua was unable to speak clearly. He was very concerned for his son. In 2010 the hospital invited the boy and his father to a speech language camp for cleft palate patients.
At the camp Hua and his father took part in the activities with the other patients and their families. Despite being with other cleft patients like him, Hua was too shy to look up or speak. His father said the poor appearance of his son’s nose was to blame. The team at the hospital recommended a second surgery to revise the cleft lip repair and help with Hua’s speech. Hua’s father was even more worried than during his first visit to the hospital. His concern was again about the surgery’s cost. The doctor’s explained to him that he need not worry because Smile Train would once more fund the treatment as well as transportation fee to and from the hospital for both him and Hua.
After many months spent debating another surgery, Hua’s father permitted surgical treatment for his son. On February 10, 2012, Hua was operated by the same surgeon who originally treated his cleft palate. The surgery was a great success and Hua was discharged from the hospital on schedule.
During one of Hua’s follow-up visits in November 2012, doctors thought that another child had entered their office due to his beautiful smile. Hua had made wonderful progress. He spoke confidently to all the staff and proudly shared his academic achievements.
Even the father’s smile had noticeably grown. He said his son had been much more cheerful, as if Hua was a different person. The difficulties of the past four years had disappeared. The father proudly displayed all the materials associated with his son’s years of treatment. Doctors were inspired when they noticed “pass cards” of the speech treatment camp that the father had cherished, but was so common to them. Hua’s father finally found that his son could be as outstanding as other children, if not more.
The team at Stomatological Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University was grateful and happy as well. Throughout the past four years the father had worn the same clothes every time he visited the hospital and under such difficult economic conditions the hospital staff was unsure how long the family’s persistence in treating their son could last.
It took the hospital staff a bit of time to consider what was the key to Hua’s and their success. They wrote to Smile Train this conclusion:
“Without the support of such a strong foundation, Smile Train, we couldn’t have persisted on for four years with a single patient. The poor families couldn’t have afforded the expensive surgeries many times. Without Smile Train, the team approach to cleft care wouldn’t have such development or scale as today. Without the thirteen years of Smile Train in China, how could we have seen the smiles of children with cleft lip and cleft palate?”