Mending Smiles

A Samaritan’s Purse medical team performs cleft lip surgeries in South Sudan.

Lives changed forever

Imagine if, from the time you were born, people looked at you and saw a cursed life. That is the reality for men, women, and children with cleft lips who live in South Sudan. But for 87 people, it all changed this year when they received reparative surgery through Samaritan’s Purse.

Patients ranged in age from just a few months to 65 years.

For her entire life Yunisa, 61, has been shunned because of her cleft lip.

For her entire life Yunisa, 61, has been shunned because of her cleft lip.

Earlier this year, we sent a sixteen-member team of surgeons, nurses, and other medical professionals to Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan’s capital city, where they performed cleft lip surgery for people who could never receive the operation otherwise. The patients ranged in age from six months to 65 years, and for each of them, that week changed their life forever.

Canadian nurse John Troke cares for a cleft lip patient during surgery.

Canadian nurse John Troke cares for a cleft lip patient during surgery.

The Samaritan’s Purse Cleft Lip team included surgeons, nurses, anesthetists, and other medical professionals – both from Canada and the U.S..

A Smile Transformed

If Dhal had been born in North America, he probably would have had surgery to repair his cleft lip before he turned one. But the little 3-year-old boy lives in a remote area more than 300 miles from South Sudan’s capital.

In South Sudan, children with cleft lips are mistreated, shunned, and even abused.

There, people see his cleft lip as a curse. They say that his mother sinned, or that he is possessed by demons. Children refuse to play with him.

Though Dhal is badly mistreated, he is more fortunate than many children who are born with a cleft lip. The stigma surrounding the disfigurement is so strong, newborn babies are often thrown in the river or left to die of exposure.

Canadian Karen Daniels, co-manager of the Cleft Lip Program, prays with a young patient going into surgery.

Canadian Karen Daniels, co-manager of the Cleft Lip Program, prays with a young patient going into surgery.

“We are expanding cleft palate repair program in 2019 to include our first Asia mission in Myanmar, so it’s an exciting time for us. To date we’ve completed almost 600 cleft lip and palate repairs and have three different volunteer teams that go out each year,” said Karen Daniels, a Canadian registered nurse who leads the cleft lip and palate surgical teams for Samaritan’s Purse.

As children and adults, many people with cleft lips will be prevented from receiving an education or getting a job. People in their communities refuse to do business with them, and many never get married. They live lonely lives, apart from the sense of community that is so central to the culture in South Sudan.

Dahl’s grandmother, Monica, waited stoically outside the operating room as her grandson underwent the two-hour surgery that would transform his countenance. She had seen the other cleft lip patients go in to surgery and emerge with swollen, but whole, upper lips.

Dr. Jim Wade and the other skilled surgeons who volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse can repair a cleft lip in under two hours.

Dr. Jim Wade and the other skilled surgeons who volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse can repair a cleft lip in under two hours.

When Dahl, still groggy from anesthesia, was carried out by the post-operative nurse, Monica was in awe of the transformation. She knew that this procedure had changed the course of his life. As she cradled her grandson, she spoke just three words as her eyes brimmed with tears. “I am grateful.”

As she cradled her grandson, she spoke just three words as her eyes brimmed with tears. “I am grateful.”

The rest of the world—including her community—may not see Mary as valuable or beautiful. But God does. And that is the message Samaritan’s Purse is bringing to cleft lip patients in South Sudan.