Life Changing Solutions for Children with Cleft Lip/Palette

Every 3 minutes, a child is born with cleft lip or cleft palette, reports Operation Smile. This can have a significant impact on the child’s life – it affects their ability to eat and drink, and sadly, sometimes results in their parents giving them away as they don’t want to see the child go through a difficult childhood living with the cleft lip or cleft palette. Some children don’t go to school out of fear or judgement, and those that do often get bullied both physically and mentally since they look different to their peers and have trouble with their speech.

This is some of the information that Operation Smile shares in their 1-hour infomercial that I watched on CHEK TV on January 6th. It’s a powerful show and I shed a tear several times while watching.

Fortunately, there is a way that children born with this medical condition can get it rectified. A fairly simple surgical procedure can repair a cleft lip or cleft palette, so that the child can go through life without being treated differently. It’s not a curse; it’s a medical condition that can easily be fixed. The only thing standing in the way of getting surgery is time and money, but with Operation Smile, $240 or $20/month can change a child’s life forever.

Operation Smile gives free surgeries in some of the poorest countries in our world, where parents can’t afford the cost of the procedure. The first time they did this, they operated on 40 children and had to turn away 240. Because of the demand, they then went back with other doctors to help even more children.

Some mothers of children living with this condition will spend all their money on bus fare or spend 2 days walking and 1 day on the bus to get to the Operations Smile surgical centre so their child can have surgery. There, they see other children who look like their child and who are dealing with the same thing, and realize their child is not the only one with cleft lip or cleft palette.

Operation Smile brings everything that’s needed – the medicine, anesthesia, and everything else that’s required for the procedure. Unfortunately, because of high demand, every time the surgical center is set up they are overwhelmed with parents and children and have to tell many to “come back next time”.

The surgery takes less than an hour, and it allows children to feel “normal” and like other kids for the first time. Parents cry with joy when they see the effects of the repair surgery. It is like a dream come true. They understand that people will be surprised to see the change, but hope it will be the beginning of the children being accepted and being able to enjoy a better life without judgement.

Operation Smile does important, life changing work. However, the organization has been criticized for being poor financial managers and there are other organizations that do the same kind of service.

One organization that provides free reconstructive surgery and health care for those with cleft lip and cleft palates in developing countries is Operation Rainbow Canada. They are a private, registered non-profit, all volunteer organization and they help children and young adults in need of surgery or care. They have successfully carried out over 12 medical missions to countries such as India, Mexico, Lebanon, the Philippines, Cambodia, and other developing countries, and they’ve helped thousands of children with a cleft lip or cleft palate.

Another organization that provides comprehensive cleft lip and palate care for children and families in Asia, Africa and the Americas is Transforming Faces. They dedicate their time to providing medical care and helping families build healthier, happier lives. They provide surgery to repair the cleft, offer post-operative support, counselling for the parents, infant nutrition, social support and ongoing speech therapy. Their aim is to support children and families every step of the way and not just for the surgery. Since cleft lip and palate care is limited in developing countries, they want to provide people with the care they need both before and after surgery.

There may well be other cleft lip and cleft palette charities here in Canada. If you know of one, please make a comment to support them and I will edit this article and add them in.

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Alison Wheatley

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