Turning scars into smiles

Matshediso Mabuea with her baby, Onalerona Motshale, who had just received corrective surgery on his cleft lip. At the back is proud dad, Motlatsi Motshale. PHOTOS: PULANE CHOANE

While many parents often conceive their children to be born without any hiccups, Motlatsi Motshale and the mother of his child, Matshediso Mabuea, did not experience the same with the birth of their newborn child at a Bloemfontein hospital in 2016.

Their son, Onalerona Alpha Motshale, was born with a gaping hole on his upper lip as well as another in the roof of his mouth. His parents had no idea why, nor did they have any idea why this had happened to their child.

According to www.medical-dictionary. com, “a cleft is a birth defect that occurs when the tissue of the lip and/or palate of the foetus does not fuse very early in pregnancy. A cleft lip, sometimes referred to as a harelip, is an opening in the upper lip that can extend into the base of the nostril.

A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth. For many children born with these defects, it’s either one or the other of these conditions, however, in baby Motshale’s case, he had both these conditions.

The father of the baby says although they were worried, their fears were quickly dispelled when the hospital staff duly informed the young couple that their son was born with a condition that affects hundreds of thousands in South Africa every day and that through The Smile Foundation, help was near.

“At only 9 months old this was his second operation. His first one was last year in September when the doctors closed up his palate,” he says. Though Motlasi and his partner admit they were nervous about the second operation their brave son had to undergo, which was the operation on his cleft lip, they were confident it would be successful because the doctors are capable and “the people here have been good to us”.

Sharing the same ward with Baby Motshale was eight-year-old Keletso Sekonyela who, unlike baby Motshale, was born only with a cleft palate. He was brought to the hospital by his maternal grandmother, Paulina Sekonyela, and the two hail from Botshabelo.

Paulina Sekonyela and her precious grandson, Keletso Sekonyela, lighting up the Universitas Academic Hospital in Bloemfontein with their smiles.
Paulina Sekonyela and her precious grandson, Keletso Sekonyela, lighting up the Universitas Academic Hospital in Bloemfontein with their smiles.

The woman with the aged skin, wide smile and kind eyes explained that it is her grandson’s fourth operation and he has been a recipient of the treatments and reconstructive surgeries since he was but a child. When asked where the mother of the child is, Sekonyela explained that the child’s mother has turned to substance abuse and shies away from taking her child to the hospital for treatment publicly due to the scourge she faces for carrying a child “with a sore and broken upper lip”.

The 59-year-old says she supports herself and her grandchild by selling sweets and fruit to industrial workers in Botshabelo when her grandson is at school. She also explains that the child will return to the hospital on 22 February 2017 for a follow-up operation to close a minor hole in his ear.

These are just two of the hundreds of stories one can expect to unfold in the Universitas Academic Hospital’s (UAH) wards for these children who are given a shot to have good and proper smiles without the scarring of a cleft lip.

Smile Week was held in Bloemfontein at the Universitas Academic Hospital from 6 February 2017 to Friday 10 February 2017. – Pulane Choane