Adamawa, Nigeria—Many Smile Train patients are only able to fall in love and marry after they receive surgery. Whether it be the stigma, shame, or any other item on the laundry list of negative feelings associated with cleft, these emotions prevent those with unrepaired clefts from experiencing one of the most universal milestones—marriage.
For Sule Alhassan, 46 years old, and his wife Lami, 36 years old, though, having a cleft is what brought them together. Hailing from Adamawa state in Northeastern Nigeria, the couple was among 30 other cleft patients being treated during Smile Train partner Oral Health Advocacy Initiative’s cleft week last month.
The two met when Sule saw Lami while working as a gatekeeper for the local hospital—it was his first day on the job. Lami at the time was a beggar, stigmatized because of her cleft. Sule recalls their first meeting with much joy. He said he was instantly attracted to Lami for her beauty and because she shared something in common with him. Not long after their first meeting Sule proposed marriage. The couple have been married for 16 years and have 13 children! Through nine pregnancies Lami has delivered one set of triplets, two sets of twins, and has had six single births. None of the children were born with a cleft.
Living in an area of Nigeria where the average person makes a little less than four dollars a day and raising 13 children, the couple never imagined they would be able to have their clefts repaired because of the cost. Thanks to the generous Smile Train donors and doctors they were able to get the surgery they had waited decades for.
Both Sule and Lami had successful surgeries and are excited about their new look, new smile, and new life.