Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Mohammed Abdullah, left, who had his cleft lip repaired, with his mother, Raeda Momani.
Mohammed Abdullah, left, who had his cleft lip repaired, with his mother, Raeda Momani.
Salah Malkawi
Mohammed Abdullah, left, who had his cleft lip repaired, with his mother, Raeda Momani.

A chance - and a reason - to smile

Operation Smile Jordan treats cleft palate patients whose families could not otherwise afford treatment.

AMMAN // Dozens of children squeezed into an outpatient clinic on the outskirts of Amman last week hoping to be chosen to have an operation that would transform their lives. The children, who have a cleft lip and palate, were joined by their parents at the state-run Tutanji Hospital as they waited to see plastic surgeons who were volunteering as part of Operation Smile Jordan.

For many families, the surgery provided by this non-profit organisation devoted to treating children with facial deformities is the only hope for their children to get the help they need. "My son still needs more surgery and we cannot afford to treat him," said Raeda Momani. Mohammed Abdullah, her five-year-old son, was born with a cleft lip and palate. He has severe facial deformities and has been operated on five times, most recently nine months ago by Operation Smile surgeons.

"Doctors have planted a bone [in the upper jaw], and he is better. He can eat everything, and he started to ask me to take him places." Cleft lip and a palate deformity is a condition that occurs one in 600 to 800 births worldwide. They do not necessarily occur at the same time, but when they do, a cut in the upper lip and the palate forms a split. Those born with such abnormalities are vulnerable to ear infections and are at risk of hearing impairments and speech defects.

Mrs Momani said her son had made a lot of progress since his most recent operation and his young uncles who used to avoid him had started playing with him. However, Mohammed still mumbles when he talks. "Yesterday he asked me to buy him books and I tried to enrol him in a nursery. But the teacher told me that his speech is difficult and asked me to wait until his speech improves. But I felt it was only a pretext."

And while the week-long campaign seeks to operate on 100 children from Jordan and the West Bank, Mrs Momani is not sure that her son will be chosen. She is also trying hard to get an exemption for her son to be treated at a private hospital because she cannot afford to pay the costs. Operation Smile was founded in 1982 in the US state of Virginia. Since then its volunteers have treated more than 130,000 children born with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities. The organisation operates in 51 countries.

The Jordanian branch was set up in 2004 and so far has treated more than 1,117 Jordanian, Iraqi and Palestinian children. There are 70 medical and non-medical staff, Jordanian and international, in addition to 300 student volunteers working with the Operation Smile Jordan campaign. Children with cleft lip and palate do not only suffer physically, but also mentally. "They are deprived socially, educationally and nutritionally," Benjamin Rodriguez, a cosmetic and plastic surgeon volunteering with the organisation, said. "Fixing the lip makes them acceptable to society. They can get jobs, go to school and are not an embarrassment to their families. Fixing the palates will improve the function of their speech and swallowing."

"In some cultures, particularly in Central America, the children are called monsters. They are kept at home and from interacting with any other children and they are considered a curse to their family." Among those waiting for their children to be screened was Sana Ayed, who was sitting in a tent with her husband, Yazeed Hamed. Their two-year-old daughter, Rawan, was born with cleft lip and palate. She has had three operations but requires more. She also needs speech therapy.

"When she speaks it is like she is talking from her nose. Other children will comment on her when she goes to nursery or school. We will leave that to God," Mr Hamed said. Studies show the defect can be caused by a variety of factors, such as taking certain medications during pregnancy, a lack of vitamins, exposure to pesticides or genetics. Most of the time, however, the cause is unknown and could not be prevented.

Another mother at the clinic was Myassar Jabbali, who had her 25-day-old son, Omar, in a bundle. Her husband, Khader Abu Sneineh, prevented her from seeing her son for five days, concerned about her reaction and her health after undergoing a Caesarean. "I was afraid that she would collapse. I first told her that his lip was slightly bruised and that with operations little by little he will improve."

But Mrs Jabbali said she still cries and was not accepting of her son's condition. "I have never even heard about cleft lip before. I was shocked and surprised. I have asked many about the reasons. People told me it could be because of anger during pregnancy or pollution." For those whose children have been operated on, life has improved. Ayham Mohammed, now 14 months old, was operated on by the Operation Smile team nine months ago. His mother, Amani, said surgeons repaired his lip and she hoped he would be selected to have his palate fixed. He still has difficulty in swallowing liquids.

"I used to stay at home with my in-laws avoiding people, now I take him out often," she said. smaayeh@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National