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A two-year-old Free State boy received life-changing facial surgery during the Smile Foundation Smile Week at Universitas Academic Hospital in Bloemfontein, proudly supported by the Vodacom Foundation.

Twenty-four children, ranging from the ages of 3 months to 3 years have received cleft lip and palate surgeries during Smile Week, which took place from 2 - 6 November. This was the first time Smile Week took place in the region since lockdown measures were implemented in March. 

One of the children who received an operation was two-year-old MacFarlane who was born with Pierre Robin Syndrome as well as a cleft palate. Minutes after welcoming their child, MacFarlane’s parents felt their life crumbling around them.  “I looked at my baby boy as the nurse held him up for me and tears dropped from my eyes as I knew that our family legacy will continue. Then immediately the nurse told me that he couldn't breathe on his own because of a cleft palate and chin problem so he was taken to a ventilation machine. Then on Monday afternoon, during visiting hours, the doctors told me he had to go to Universitas Academic Hospital on Tuesday morning. I cried so much because I could not even hold him or even tell him how blessed I am to have him in my life. But like my father used to say God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform,” his father told Smile Foundation.

Pierre Robin Syndrome is a congenital defect that is characterized by facial abnormalities.  The main feature of this condition is an abnormally small lower jaw, which causes a downwardly displaced tongue. This in turn causes breathing problems due to the obstruction of the upper airway. Hearing loss and speech difficulty are often associated with Pierre Robin Syndrome. These children are often slightly below average size due to feeding difficulties.

His father said MacFarlane’s condition meant he initially had to be fed via a tube which was incredibly challenging. “It was heart-breaking because sometimes the milk would spill out from his nose. But with God's grace, we managed. When he was six months old, he pulled out the tube. We tried to put it back, but he pulled it out again. We then decided to feed him with his milk bottle and for the first time, he grabbed the bottle and started feeding himself. It brought my wife and I so much joy. My boy is so intelligent that sometimes it's like he's too mature for his age.”

When asked about the impact of MacFarlane’s disability on the family, his father said although the experience has been very trying, hard, and stressful, they have dealt with it well, especially because he was also born with a cleft palate, so he knew what to expect.  “Like me, the operation that was done on him will help him with his speech. I know that he is going to be alright as he continues to grow.”

Surgeons generally wait for two years before they close the palate. In MacFarlane’s case, he was so small and underweight that the surgery would have been very difficult. But his father says he is now ready for the surgery, which was expected to take approximately two to three hours. 

Comments Hedley Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of Smile Foundation, “We’re extremely proud that we can play such an instrumental role in supporting MacFarlane and his family. He is clearly a born fighter, and we have no doubt that this surgery will forever change his life. These life-changing surgeries have been generously sponsored by Vodacom Foundation, and we are honoured to be backed by our long standing corporate donor. Without the support of sponsors like them, we would not be able to assist the hundreds of children who so desperately need our assistance across the country.”

“Our children are our future and one of the basic responsibilities is to take care of them in the best and most compassionate manner possible.” These are the remarkable words of Tata Madiba which will forever ring true,” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, External Affairs Director for Vodacom South Africa. 

“As a company with deep local roots, driven by the values of Ubuntu, it is our firm belief that our investment in these life-changing surgeries will go a long way in restoring the confidence and help to create a better future for these 24 children. Helping them in any way to reach their full potential is a privilege. At Vodacom we believe that children are our greatest treasure and that each deserve, in their formative years, opportunities that will propel them to new heights to become best version of themselves. Our longstanding relationship with the Smile Foundation is one of which we are very proud and we applaud their life-changing work,” concludes Netshitenzhe.

“This backlog has severe ramifications for children waiting for surgery, many of whom are suffering further complications as a result of the delay. The unprecedented delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of our work into even sharper focus as the plight of so many children in need, becomes even more desperate.”

COVID-19 has put an estimated 70% to 100% of children’s surgeries on hold due to insufficient theatre space and an inexhaustible backlog. Other operations done during Smile Week included cleft lip and palate repair, syndactyly (webbed fingers or toes), and fistula repair.

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