Gamby Hospital Cleft Week April 24-30, 2013

Smile Train Patient Tesfaye Manaye before her free cleft surgery

Smile Train Patient Tesfaye Manaye before her free cleft surgery

Bahar Dar, EthiopiaSmile Train’s Program Manager of East Africa, Dr. Esther Njoroge, reports from the field.

Meeting with Smile Train cleft patients and their parents

Meeting with cleft patients and their parents

I always enjoy visiting Ethiopia and for selfish reasons, it’s the only time I can claim to be eight years younger and technically I would not be lying. The reason is they follow the Orthodox calendar, and therefore today is 17/8/2005, brilliant, no?

Today, I got to spend my time not boasting of my young age, but with a special group of people, cleft lip and palate patients from the Amhara region and beyond. It was the second day of a cleft week at Gamby Hospital, Bahar Dar. A week when the hospital dedicates its operating rooms for cleft surgery. The week is preceded by a month of intense awareness creation and mobilization. By today morning, 40 patients (and their parents or guardians) had gathered at the hospital, and we expect more as the week wears on. When the surgeons and I walked in, we were greeted by a multitude of eager, hopeful faces. They had traveled long distances; some had walked for two days to get to the point of public transport.

Smile Train patients and families await free cleft surgery

Smile Train patients and families

And so I spent the day talking to them and listening to their varied stories as well as sharing in their hopes and dreams. The best part about a day like today, is knowing deep down that we have changed people’s lives, possibly altered their destiny.


Meet Adenew, a shy 15 year old boy who is in 7th grade. He comes from Eastern Belessa, some 240km or so from Bahar Dar. He enjoys playing football and volleyball with his friends, and he dreams of being a private investor one day. A good choice of career, I tell him, private business is booming in Ethiopia right now and possibly in the foreseeable future. I ask him why he wants his cleft repaired, why he has travelled so far. “Though am not stigmatized because of my cleft, I feel bad living with a cleft, and I want to be like normal people” he replies and goes back to staring at the same spot on the floor. This is a survival mechanism for him, I realize, for as long as he is looking at that spot, one cannot immediately tell he has a cleft! Adenew finally gets his turn at the close of the day, and the smile on his face and eyes after I showed him his ‘after surgery’ photo spoke volumes!

Smile Train Patient Adenew before and after his free cleft lip surgery

Tesfaye Manaye after her free cleft surgery

Tesfaye Manaye after her free cleft surgery 🙂

Tesfaye Manay

The young lady at the beginning of this blog is Tesfaye Manaye, who is my daughter’s age, three going on sixteen. She is the most adorable kid you can imagine and she had the cutest shoes. A last born in a family of three, she is the only one with a cleft in her entire family. Her mother traveled more than 280km, to give her a chance at a life without ridicule. Am sure that’s just what they received today, and after Tesfaye wakes up, the swelling goes down and the healing takes place, the smile on her beautiful face will be precious to see.

Siraw Mengest

And the triple bounty went to Mr. Siraw Mengest from Lalibela. At 59 years of age, he has lived with a cleft lip all his life. And what is worse, his two grandchildren, Mamite, 10 and Tekeba, 12 were born with a cleft as well. Today, a journey of two days on foot and 200km by bus coupled with all his hope and faith will bear fruit. Their clefts will be repaired, their lives changed forever, just by a smile.

Siraw Mengest  and his grandchildren before Smile Train surgery

Thank you Smile Train, on behalf of all these people for providing the fuel that keeps this train moving.

Smile Train and Me, a Surgeon’s Story

Dr. Li Kezhu, a plastic surgeon from Smile Train partner hospital 1st Hospital of China Medical University, poses with a happy 12-year-old patient who is about to leave the hospital after her life-changing cleft surgery.

Dr. Li Kezhu, a plastic surgeon from Smile Train partner hospital 1st Hospital of China Medical University, poses with a happy 12-year-old patient who is about to leave the hospital after her life-changing cleft surgery.

Dr. Li Kezhu, a plastic surgeon from Smile Train partner hospital 1st Hospital of China Medical University, shares her experiences as a Smile Train doctor.

Shenyang, China — As I usually do each day, I was at the hospital waiting for cleft patients to come for our Smile Train program. A couple wearing simple clothing walked in with a 12-year-old girl following behind them with her head bent down and looking very embarrassed — the girl had a cleft.

The couple had come on a special trip from afar when they heard that there was even such a program being offered like Smile Train. After making the necessary arrangements for the girl’s surgery, the father pulled me aside and whispered “Doctor, is Smile Train really free? Is that true?” I smiled and said, “Don’t worry, it’s really free.” The father felt relieved after he heard that. Finally his face showed a trace of a smile.

My team examined the girl to identify if she was in good physical condition to undergo surgery. Then the team of physicians formulated a detailed operation scheme. Soon the girl, accompanied by her parents, was sent from the examination room into the operating room. In order to shorten operation time and reduce the risk of injury, I was absorbed in doing the operation carefully. The assistant surgeon and nurse worked with me closely. The operation was very smooth and completed according to the preoperative discussion program. After she awoke from anesthesia, I took the girl out of the operation room. Right away, her parents rushed to their child. I can still clearly see the tears in their eyes and I know they were tears of joy.

After the surgery, our doctors made visits to the recovery ward to see the girl’s condition and patiently answered all kinds of questions from the parents. Being only 12 years old, their daughter could not stand pain and sometimes would not cooperate with us. She cried when we would change the dressing (bandages) on her lip so we had to think of a way to distract her while at the same time quickly and gently handling the operation wound. Our team was always bathed in sweat after the end of her dressing changes, but no one ever complained about helping this patient.

After being under the great care of doctors and nurses the girl was finally ready to be discharged. With a grateful smile the couple and their daughter said goodbye to us. They kept saying, “Thank you! Thank you for Smile Train!” in an excited voice. Whenever we are able to see Smile Train make a child’s future better, one after another, we also feel very pleased.

A Very Special Thank You

Students of St. Mark Catholic School video conferenced Smile Train patients who are in one of our speech therapy cleft choirs

Seattle, WA — On April 18th, the 3rd and 5th grade students at St. Mark Catholic School gathered together for a very special event — they had a live Skype conference with former Smile Train patients in Mexico City!

The students at St. Mark Catholic School are no strangers to giving back. In 2011, led by teacher Mrs. Kimm Conroy, they held a community wide fundraiser that raised enough money to fund nine cleft surgeries. One of the events was a school-wide contest called Spare Your Change for Smile Train where each grade level was challenged to raise the most money.

This year’s 3rd grade class is also collecting funds for Smile Train. Their donations will be restricted to the speech therapy program in Mexico City that they Skyped with, Hablarte y Integrarte.

The video connection gave the students the opportunity to see the impact of their donation firsthand. After students in Seattle and Mexico introduced themselves to one another, the cleft choir at Hablarte y Integrarte performed a song for the group! As Monica Dominguez, Smile Train Country Manager in Mexico said, “The cleft choir in Hablarte e Integrate in Mexico City, sang with passion and gratitude in a fun Skype call.”

Would you like to see the impact of your donations first hand via video chat? Let us know! We would be happy to arrange a connection with one of our partners.

Thank you to the students, faculty and staff of St. Mark’s for their support and an extra thanks to Don Trujillo for setting up the AV equipment!

Mohd Returns Home

Little Mohd at home with his mother (Mummy) and father.

Little Mohd happy at home with his mother (Mummy) and father.

Mohd before

Mohd before

Jodhpur, India–Little Mohd Waris was brought to Raj Dadiji Hospital in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate. The hospital staff noticed that Mohd was accompanied by an older woman and not his parents, who would presumably be much younger. Curious, they asked the woman about the boy’s parents and found out that Mohd’s mother was ill-treated by her in-laws because her child was born with a cleft. Due to the pressure from her husband’s family, Mohd’s mother left him with the older woman, his maternal grandmother.

His 55-year-old grandmother had only one thing to say to the Smile Train doctors at Raj Dadiji Hospital, “Make my child look like a healthy normal human being so that he can live with his mother.”

Mohd and his grandmother after surgery.
Mohd and his grandmother after surgery.

The Smile Train team provided Mohd with free cleft surgery and the day after, Mohd’s grandmother visited the hospital with his mother. Mohd’s mothered praised the surgeons, staff, and Smile Train and said, “Now, I can take my child with me.”

The young boy now lives happily with his mother and father, his paternal family accepting him with open arms.

Patience Rewarded With New Smiles

Dr. Ashraf with a group of Smile Train patients from Djibouti after their free cleft surgeries.

Dr. Ashraf with a group of Smile Train patients from Djibouti after their free cleft surgeries.

Djibouti, Djibouti— When Smile Train East Africa Manager, Dr. Esther Njoroge visited Djibouti in February, she was not sure what to find. The tiny country’s lone Smile Train partner Al Rahma Hospital had been dormant for almost two years. Determined to revive the hospital’s Smile Train program, Dr. Njoroge decided she needed to visit the partner. This would be her first visit and what she found more than pleasantly surprised her.

When Dr. Njoroge arrived at Al Rahma Hospital located in Djibouti’s capital, also named Djibouti, she was met by a very warm and welcoming staff, as well as an impeccable hospital serving the poor community of the country. Located on the Horn of Africa neighboring Somalia to the southeast and Ethiopia to the southwest, Djibouti is one of the smallest countries in the world. Of its population of 900,000, 40 percent live on less than two dollars per day.

During the time that Dr. Njoroge had thought the hospital had suspended their Smile Train program, the staff had actually mobilized 45 cleft patients to receive free Smile Train surgeries. For a country with little more than 20 estimated cleft births each year, this was an impressive total.  “What do we do with these patients?” the staff asked. Their previous surgeon had left, but the staff at the hospital knew they needed to help these patients.

Dr. Njoroge quickly got in touch with an Egyptian surgeon living and working in Kenya, Dr. Ashraf Emarah. He agreed to not only visit to provide cleft surgery, but also provide cleft surgery training to another surgeon at the hospital eager to learn. On March 15th, less than a month after Dr. Njoroge called him, Dr. Ashraf made his way to Djibouti. During his two-week stay each one of the 45 cleft patients who had been waiting received free surgery, plus another, for a total of 46 new smiles!

Smile Train partner Amin Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Hospital celebrates 1,000th cleft surgery

Dr. Mughese Amin (center) celebrates his hospital's 1,000th Smile Train with his staff and  lucky patient Abdullah, being held by his father, Abdur Rehman.

Dr. Mughese Amin (center) celebrates his hospital’s 1,000th Smile Train with his staff and lucky patient Abdullah, being held by his father, Abdur Rehman.

Bahawalpur, PakistanSmile Train partner surgeon Dr. Mughese Amin recently wrote to inform us of his hospital’s 1,000th Smile Train surgery. A Smile Train partner since 2008, Dr. Mughese manages his Smile Train program at Amin Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Hospital, which he founded. He is also an Associate Professor & Head of the Department Plastic Surgery at Quaid E Azam Medical College and Victoria Hospital located in Bahawalpur, Pakistan.

Our 1,000th Smile Train patient, one-and-a-half-year-old Abdullah, son of Abdur Rehman, came to Amin Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Hospital after his father saw an advertisement about Smile Train in a newspaper. Abdullah’s father told me that this was his only son after six daughters and that Abdullah is very precious for him and his family. When I met the family I saw that the father of the child also had a cleft lip. This chap had spent a whole of his life with this cleft. I asked him if I could operate on him as well, but he said he was too old now and would come later for his surgery. He was not much interested in his surgery at the time.

Father and son before Abdullah's surgery. His father, Abdur, will receive cleft surgery shortly.

Father and son before Abdullah’s surgery. His father, Abdur, will receive cleft surgery shortly.

Abdullah’s father said he is very poor so he could not afford surgery. When I examined Abdullah his father asked me hesitantly what was the fee for surgery. I said, “Nothing. It is free.” He was surprised when I told him this. Very unfortunately the person from his village who brought son and father to my hospital took 3,000 Rupees (about $30 USD) from them claiming it was a doctor fee. I then called that chap and got Abdullah’s father his money back.

Please join everyone here at Smile Train in congratulating Dr. Mughese and his hospital for this huge smilestone!