“We met back in 2001 when I was doing my 4th year surgical residency and I was involved in a surgery which Conrad was doing, a very romantic septic bed sore,” laughs Clare. The two medical professionals took an immediate liking to each other and so sought an excuse to spend time together. “I was working on a paper and needed a student to assist me and it seemed like a great way to get to spend more time with Clare,” explains Conrad.
A number of meetings over lunch soon started taking place and it wasn’t long before the good doctors were dating. Conrad went off to work in the Netherlands for a year in 2003 and when he returned had developed a strong interest in cleft lip and palate. Upon returning to South Africa Conrad joined Operation Smile and it was thus almost a ‘fait accompli’ that Clare would follow him.
In 2010 and 2011 Clare was awarded the Regan and Stryker fellowship to visit and train with Operation Smile at the organisations global headquarters. It was in 2011 that the two attended their first mission together when they visited the DRC, the mission was a monumental experience for both as over 260 people received surgery.
“Working on a mission together definitely bring you closer together. Relationships function on a different level in that sort of environment and you see your partner in a completely new light,” says Conrad. Clare agrees, “it is just such a special thing, an absolute privilege to do surgery on a voluntary basis. It is a wonderful and spiritual experience and to be able to share that with someone who understands is unbelievable.”
In 2016 Clare and Conrad shared a very special experience as they worked with OSSA to assist a young girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Shekinah Zivutanga, who came to South Africa with the world care program.
Shekinah had developed a benign tumour known as an Ossifying Fibroma and after two years of struggling to find assistance visited an Operation Smile mission where Clare saw and diagnosed her. The Operation Smile team sprang into action and Shekinah, accompanied by her mother, was brought to South Africa to receive surgery.
When the 14 year old arrived she weighed a worrying 19kg’s and there was many fears for her health and life. “In a case like Shekinahs it is nice to have someone to share the experience and fears with. Conrad and the team made the weight of it all bearable,” says Clare.
“Its actually very similar to a mission in that on a mission every knows their job and gets on with it. With Shekinah, I was focused on the surgery specifically while Clare took an overview of the entire process and so the team complemented each other,” notes Conrad.
Shekinah’s story was to have a happy ending as her tumour was removed and her quality of life greatly improved but she was not the only recipient of a changed life. “A memory like this is one that will endure with you for the rest of your life and the whole experience changed me,” says Clare.
Clare and Conrad have a remarkable relationship and their passion for the work they do with Operation Smile only enhances what is a beautiful, rewarding and always funny partnership. “Everyday that we work together I am reminded that it is actually very simple. One of us is the clever one and the other is the handyman. It is not difficult to guess who is who,” laughs Conrad.