When Lena gave birth to her daughter Lavender, the whispers about the infant’s cleft lip spread quickly throughout their tiny village of Masindet, Kenya. As neighbors lined up to see the baby, Lena was devastated when she overheard someone saying, “Babies like this shouldn’t exist.”
The family struggled to raise the funds for cleft surgery for more than a year. Lena’s stress and disappointment boiled over during a family argument – she decided to leave the family and run away. Now alone with Lavender, her father knew that he needed help so he asked his mother Irene for support.
Irene fortunately knew that surgery could correct Lavender’s unrepaired cleft lip because her cousin also had a cleft. She told her son that Lavender’s condition was nothing to be embarrassed of. “Stop questioning why Lavender was born with a cleft lip, it is just something that happens, and it can be repaired,” she said.
After asking around, Irene found Smile Train partner, IcFEM Dreamland Mission Hospital and made an appointment for Lavender. On surgery day, the route to the hospital was only accessible by walking so she carried Lavender more than 16 miles through muddy and hilly terrain.
After the surgery, Irene was very happy with the results. “The surgery has made the future of my granddaughter bright,” she says. Irene left the hospital, promising to testify about the miracles being performed at IcFEM Dreamland Mission Hospital. Irene said her next task was to track down Lena in hopes of Lavender’s parents reconciling and raising their child together.
Nairobi, Kenya — When Dr. Sylvia Noah met Elphas Sifuna, she met a boy who hid behind an over-sized hat and a large, brown trench coat with a popped collar to cover his mouth. As Dr. Noah spoke to his guardian, Elphas quietly stared at the floor trying not to be noticed. He refused to take off his hat.
“He was a loner and did not have any friends. He had not started school because of his cleft lip.”
As the screening progressed, Elphas whispered a question: he wanted to know if his cleft lip would be repaired and if he would be allowed to start school. Dr. Noah soon learned that Elphas “was a loner and did not have any friends. He had not started school because of his cleft lip. He was a shy boy who would not look you in the eye or talk comfortably unless he had his hat on.”
Luckily, a social worker found him and 11 other children with cleft and arranged for them to be screened for cleft surgery at Smile Train partner hospital Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital. The morning after his screening, Elphas received free cleft lip surgery and awoke from anesthesia a new child.
When he looked at himself in the mirror he was so pleased he could not help smiling. He came to the clinic before travelling home, without his hat or coat on and told me he was going to school. He had a sparkle in his eye, a bounce in his step and courage to face the world.”
—Dr. Sylvia Noah
Thanks to a network of compassionate people, most of whom he will never know, Elphas has been given a new chance at a normal life. By all accounts, he is determined to make the most of this gift.
Nairobi, Kenya — While many people celebrate the New Year by popping a bottle of Champagne and watching the ball drop in Times Square, our patients such as Abdi Hasan are celebrating in a different way — smiling. Smile Train Program Manager of East Africa, Dr. Esther Njoroge, sent us an email wishing everyone a Happy New Year and sharing a wonderful story of the man with cleft whom she met on Christmas Eve:
Happy New year to you all! As we start 2012, I have a story to share.
The day before Christmas I was walking in Nairobi town and I bumped into a young man while crossing the road. The first thing I noticed was his cleft lip and I grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. I was more surprised than he was because in all my years at Smile Train, I had never seen a cleft patient walking around town. I introduced myself and asked him if he had ever heard of cleft repair. He told me he was from North Eastern Kenya and had come to Nairobi hoping to get his cleft repaired but so far had not been successful in finding a doctor since he had no money. I told him Smile Train can help him get his cleft repaired, and more so at no cost to him. He did not believe me. Fortunately I had a brochure with me so I gave it to him with my phone number and asked him to tell his relatives to call me. Sure enough that eveing the cousin called. To cut the long story short, we organized for him to be picked up and taken to Metropolitan Hospital on 31st Dec. When they got to Metropolitan and were given the ST consent form to sign, they read it word for word and they only had one question, what is the catch? Will we be told to pay once he comes from theatre or you want to take his kidneys?…the cousin called me and asked if it was a hoax. I reassured him…
The surgery was done the same day and Abdi Hassan received a New Year gift, courtesy of a stranger to him! He is doing well. He is very grateful and says he will take the message back to Wajir where he comes from and knows of many patients suffering from the same.
And that, is my New Year motivation to do more for cleft patients.”
— Dr. Esther Njoroge.
In a few more days, the swelling will go down, and Abdi will be able to start a new chapter in his life thanks to Esther, our donors, and Dr. Wanjeri and the Metro Hospital team. To all of our patients who are starting their lives anew, our amazing supporters and partners that make Smile Train run, Happy New Year!
Nairobi, Kenya – In late July, Peter Kimani was pushing his bicycle full of goods down the road when a stranger approached him to say hello. On August 3, he stepped out of Metropolitan Hospital, the warm sun beaming down upon his brand new smile.
Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Smile Train’s Regional Director of Africa, was driving through Kibati in Kenya’s Murang’a County when he saw a man with a bike coming in the opposite direction. While certainly not the first time a bicyclist passed a car, something caught Dr. Gitahi’s eye in the fleeting instant that made him pullover— the man had a cleft. Dr. Gitahi stepped out of his car and chased after the man. When he caught up, the stranger turned around. To Dr. Gitahi’s confusion, the man was biting his upper lip. Was the man consciously hiding his cleft lip? Had he made a mistake in that split second? Did the man even have a cleft lip? Would it be less awkward if he just returned to his car? Realizing that there would be no harm in asking, Dr. Gitahi said hello. The 37-year-old-man smiled back and introduced himself as Peter, revealing his unrepaired unilateral cleft lip.
Dr. Gitahi explained to him that he worked for Smile Train and asked Peter if he knew that he could receive free surgery to repair. To his shock, Peter responded that he had heard there was free surgery, but never followed up believing that there would be some sort of a catch for “free treatment.” Dr. Gitahi assured Peter that the surgery was legitimately free thanks to donors in other countries and they exchanged information. Before he was even back to his car, Dr. Gitahi was on the phone with his team to arrange a screening for Peter at Metropolitan Hospital. After being picked up and driven to the hospital by Dr. Gitahi and his team, Peter received his surgery on August 2nd. His excitement at having his cleft repaired after 37 long years rang through the hospital and as he looked in the mirror that his surgeon, Dr. Kimani Wanjeri, provided for the first time, he happily proclaimed that
I might have to miss a few days of work, but it is SO SO WORTH IT!!!”
Peter is scheduled to return to the hospital for a follow up on August 11th and is looking forward to showing off his new smile to everyone, promising to spread the word that Smile Train does provide free cleft surgeries.
The words that keep ringing in my mind are, ‘I dont believe it’s for free and yet I could never afford it!’ It just shows how many people we still need to reach out there and who are still suffering. Luckily, people like Peter become real ambassadors for Smile Train.”
Dr. Githinji Gitahi