The Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital performs over 50 cleft lip and palate surgeries every year on young children.
A cleft lip and cleft palate is a facial deformity that occurs in the early stages of pregnancy.
Dr Tim Christofides, a surgeon at the hospital, says several children are born with the deformity and it is a complicated surgery that requires intricate detail.
“It’s challenging and not everyone can do these types of surgeries. It’s a complex and delicate type of surgery. We do it on a regular basis but Smile Foundation sometimes assists us,” he said.
“The Smile Foundation has been a great asset to us. It has managed to find donors and that assists us when we need certain equipment to help us do our job as best as we can.”
Christofides said the reconstructive surgery comprises of a minimum of three surgeries because of the detail required to ensure the child does not take on too much at a young age.
“If a child is born with a cleft lip and palate, there are multiple surgeries involved. We can’t do everything at once.”
The first surgery is a lip surgery that is done at three months old. The second is known as the first stage of the palate and is done at nine months old.
Christofides says the second stage of the surgery can be done at eighteen months to two years old, depending on the child’s speech and feeding improvement.
With over 15 years’ experience as a surgeon, Christofides emphasised the importance of maintaining a close relationship with parents and keeping them thoroughly informed throughout every stage.
“It’s a very scary experience for parents. They do regular visits at clinics and we tell them what exactly is going to happen and what to expect when the child will be admitted,” he said.
“We give parents an opportunity to ask questions and we make sure they sign consent forms before we operate on the child. We make sure we see the parents on a constant basis before the surgery so we can discuss what will happen. Parents also get to engage with one another and support each other.”
He emphasised the importance of providing counselling for parents to assist in helping them deal with the trauma of their children experiencing reconstructive surgery.
“It’s all about making sure parents also get counselling. We all do this as a team. We all work together to make sure the parents get counselling,” said Christofides.
“What’s exceptionally rewarding for me is seeing babies who are born with these birth defects, finally feeling normal again.”
– Sanele Gumada