Operation Smile gives 13 kids reason to be happy in UAE


Eleven-month old Zach Yohan will undergo surgery on Saturday as part of the Operation Smile charity initiative.

Ruel Guarni and his wife Bernadette are all smiles. And they have all the reason to do so. After almost a year’s wait, the Filipino couple will be able to see their little one smile – and smile beautifully.

Eleven-month old Zach Yohan, born with cleft lips, is among the 13 beneficiaries who will receive free corrective surgeries for cleft lips and palates at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi this weekend, thanks to the charity, Operation Smile UAE.

“It has been a long wait for us, and now I am happy that from tomorrow, my son will smile like any other child,” said his mum, Bernadette.

Zach will undergo surgery on Saturday as part of the Operation Smile charity initiative.

“We had consulted with other hospitals before, but the Dh20,000 cost for the surgery was more than we can afford,” said Ruel, who works as a store keeper in Abu Dhabi.

“On the first day of the Operation Smile initiative on Friday, seven children between the age group of 11 months to 11 years old received corrective surgeries,” Morag Cromey, executive director of Operation Smile UAE, told Khaleej Times.

“On the second day on July 29, the rest of the six patients will be operated upon. We have had nearly 30 patients who came in for the screening on the first day. But some children were too young to be operated upon. So only 13 cases were cleared,” said Cromey.

“Most of the patients are from the UAE. But we have a cross-section of nationalities from Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Jordan and Palestine.”

Cromey said in the first-ever initiative organised by Operation Smile UAE, they have received a tremendous support from Cleveland Clinic. “Around 186 staff including doctors and surgeons from Cleveland Clinic have come forward to volunteer. And the hospital is offering its facilities for free,” said Cromey.

Operation Smile UAE, which launched its operations in the emirates in 2011, has funded 16 such missions in countries like Ethiopia, China, India, Morocco, Jordan and the Philippines. “But it is the first time we are able to organise a mission in the UAE to help those in need in the country.”

“It is truly a rewarding work because you can see how the life of a child and family transform in just a day. By a simple corrective surgery, we are bringing them back to normal life. These children can eat and drink normally, go to school and more importantly, they will be not be shunned by the society just because of the way they look,” said Cromey.

Eeva-Liisa Langille, a paediatrician, who volunteered said corrective surgery for the cleft lips and palates are crucial because the deformity affects speech development, and eating and drinking ability by children. “Their facial expression is also defined by the shape of the lips and palates.”

Langille said the cleft lip surgery could take 45 minutes to one hour, and the cleft palate correction could take up to two hours.

“The recovery is quicker in the case of cleft lips surgery. But in both cases, patients will need to be on fluids for up to a week before resuming soft food.”

Explaining the causes, Langille said some children have cleft lips and palates due to a combination of factors including genes and nutrition deficiencies of the mother during the pregnancy


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