This week has been filled with smiles at the George Regional Hospital thanks to the incredible team from the Smile Foundation – a total of 18 children were helped.
George, South Africa (30 November 2023) – Children with craniofacial anomalies, physical deformities and extensive burn injuries often have appearance concerns and related social anxiety which affects their mental wellbeing, and their overall quality of life. The longer a child lives with these conditions, the greater the emotional damage they endure. Through their Smile Week initiatives, Smile Foundation strives to assist such children, whose families are unable to afford the necessary surgery, as early as possible, to lessen the negative impact on their lives.
The George Regional Hospital (GRH) kicked off Smile Week on 27 November and it was sponsored by The Reatile Foundation Trust. In collaboration with the medical professionals and staff of GRH, Smile Foundation is looking forward to significantly changing the lives of 18 hopeful children in need of reconstructive surgery.
“Smile Foundation expresses deep gratitude to the exceptional medical professionals and dedicated staff at George Regional Hospital, including the medical team led by Prof Saleigh Adams, flying in from Cape Town. We appreciate their commitment, expertise, and time devoted to our initiative. Special thanks also go to our sponsor, The Reatile Foundation Trust, whose remarkable generosity is providing these children with a fresh start in life.” Marc Lubner, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Smile Foundation, extends heartfelt thanks to all involved.
18 Children’s Lives Are Changed
Among the children undergoing surgery this Smile Week, is 14-year-old Kara who was born in Nelspruit. Her surgery goes beyond smiles; born with Poland Syndrome, which presents as missing or underdeveloped chest wall muscles on one side of the body. Kara got specialised surgery to help correct the condition.
In some cases, the child also has abnormally short, webbed fingers (symbrachydactyly) of the hand on the same side of their body. Affected females with such a condition may also present the underdevelopment or absence of one breast and underlying tissue, as in Kara’s case.
Kara’s condition was not detected at birth, but at the age of one, her mother, noticed abnormal development of her hand. Kara’s paediatrician said to wait until she was older before a complete diagnosis was made. The family were living in Nelspruit at the time and have since moved to George, where doctors tried to assist Kara, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, help was further delayed.
Ansie, Kara’s mother, elaborates on how this condition affected her daughter growing up:
“Primary School was very difficult for Kara. The kids at school were extremely nasty about her physical differences to them and she was bullied all the time. This affected Kara psychologically and she needed counselling to help her get through the emotional abuse she was going through at school.”
Now a teenager, Kara faces as much difficulty as she did as a child, and withdraws from activities that most girls her age would normally enjoy.
“As much as she would love to, Kara never goes to the beach. She avoids any activity that requires her to wear a swimming costume or tight fitting clothing, which draws attention to her physical differences. She does not take part in swimming and other sports at school and holidays are not very nice as she is too self-conscious to swim.
My child has waited in hope for many years for surgery and we are finally seeing her biggest wish come true. Our family and friends have been very supportive all the way through and they are all excited about Kara’s surgery. I am nervous about her operation, like any mother would be, but Kara is so excited and is looking forward to her first “normal” school holiday this December. She also can’t wait to get herself a swimming costume and enjoy the sea for the very first time. We are extremely grateful to Smile Foundation for helping to make this all happen for Kara and we are looking forward to her new journey of life ahead.”
Kara will be undergoing surgery that involves the insertion of a right breast tissue expander, which will be placed in the subcutaneous plane. This will match the development of her unaffected breast and help her look more symmetrical and feel less self-conscious.
Kara is just one of many children who have recieved surgery this week. Her life will be forever changed.
“Having to endure the emotional burden of living with a physical anomaly or the physical disfigurement of a burn injury is a heavy cross to carry and we empathise with children and their families who face this reality on a daily basis. Through our parent and peer support groups, Cleft Friends and U Matter, we encourage parents to celebrate their children and seek help from the medical professionals available through Smile Foundation. With the support of all our donors, we strive to educate, unite and uplift those families having to walk a difficult road together,” concludes Marc Lubner, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Smile Foundation.