Each patient that Operation Smile treats becomes a member of our family. Some that become a little closer thanks to repeated visits and special smiles.
Lungile is one such patient. Together with her mother Olga, Lungile first came to Operation Smile in 2015 as a shy, even withdrawn child of just over a year old. Born with a cleft lip, Lungile’s family were extremely surprised by her appearance. “I was surprised and even scared the first time I saw her. I thought there would be no one to help her,” explains Lydia, Lungile’s grandmother.
Olga explains that while the doctors and nurses at the hospital where able to assure her that surgery to repair Lungile’s lip was possible they also explained that the waiting list could be very long and may take years. This is when Olga met Dr. Vanessa Soares, a dentist at the Rob Ferriera Hospital where Lungile was born.
Dr. Soares is a volunteer with Operation Smile and it wasn’t long before she was introduced to Olga and Lungile. After learning about OSSA through Soares, Olga called the organisation and found out about the mission in September 2015. It is clear how much the relationship with Soares means to Olga and so the emotion catches in her throat as she tries to explain, “what she has done for me…, I love her.”
Living in Mbombela, Mpumalanga Olga found her community confused and at times afraid of Lungile. The youngest of four siblings, Lungile’s three older brothers were naturally protective of their little sister. “People used to ask what was wrong with Lungile. We told them that she was born like this but when they asked, it made us feel bad,” says 17 year Tebogo, Lungile’s older brother.
When Lungile was accepted for surgery and wheeled in Olga admits some apprehension but when Lungile was taken into recovery and they were reunited she could not believe her eyes. Lydia mentions that she has family in the Free State who would never know that her granddaughter had ever had a cleft lip without seeing any pictures before the surgery.
A year later Lungile returned to the 2016 Operation Smile mission for follow-up surgery, once more in Mbombela. This time she is far from shy and withdrawn rather it was apparent that both Lungile and Olga where much happier and content. “I used to be so stressed and thin, now I am fat,” says Olga, “and Lungile loves to dance hip hop, listen to Rihanna and play her brothers musical instruments”, laughs Olga.
Olga is accompanied by a few other mothers and their children and it soon becomes apparent that she has become an advocate for the organisation and pillar of strength in her community. “I was out shopping with Lungile and I met a lady who burst into tears because her daughter also had a cleft lip and so I told her she would be ok. We called Dr. Vanessa and they are with us today. The baby, Ntando, and Lungile have become great friends,” says Olga.
As Lungile and Ntando run across the grass at the OSSA patient accomodation it is apparent that for them life has changed and for Olga life will never be the same again. “I will tell people in my community who have children born with a cleft lip that her child could be fixed and they will look nice. The mother must accept her child.”