14-year old Favour Amarachi is able to smile and talk freely after undergoing cleft repair surgery
About 15 years ago, Mrs Stella Ogbonna was wheeled into the Labour room, preparatory to take delivery of the baby which she has carried as a fetus for nine months.
Her Expected Delivery Date (EDD) was a day she looked forward to with anticipation amid the uncertainty of whether the baby would be a boy or a girl. This was of particular interest to Mr. Timothy and Mrs. Stella Ogbonna because the baby would be the first fruit of their union.
The couple were delivered of a baby girl on December 24th, 2008. The joy of taking delivery of their first child was, however, cut short with the sight of what looked like an open wound on the lips of their newborn. Though the couple were disheartened, they thought the ‘wound’ as they thought, would go away as the child aged. Unfortunately this did not happen, as the child, whom they named Favour Amarachi grew with the ripped lips that she was born with until her teenage.
Although Amarachi would go on to be enrolled in a school, she could not smile nor speak like every normal child would.
Recounting her experience in trying to cope with Amarachi’s birth defect, the mother told this reporter that, “As a baby she (Amarachi) could not feed well. When I breastfeed her or give her pap, it comes out through her nose. When it was time for her to talk she couldn’t talk properly. I discovered there was an opening at the upper region of her mouth but had no idea what it was.
“I somehow believed that the opening was the reason she is not able to talk well and also for her poor feeding habits. Sadly I couldn’t do anything because of financial constraints so I decided to leave things as there were.”
The Ogbonnas only came to terms with the true nature of what happened to their daughter when they met a specialist. That would prove to become the journey to succor for Amarachi, according to the mother.
Recounting how she found succour, Mrs Ogbonna said, “It was not until I met one Dr. Matthew that I knew that there was something called Cleft Lips and Palate. This was after he assessed my daughter and confirmed that she had the condition,” Mrs Ogbonna said.
According to Mrs Ogbonna, Amarachi had, prior to finding help courtesy of Smile Train’s free surgery for people with cleft lips and palate knew nothing about the condition, let alone the solution.
“I never knew there was anything like surgery for her situation, and even if I knew there were no financial possibilities to that. I’m just an ordinary hair dresser, I don’t have money to foot her pills. I prayed to God every day and he answered by providing us with Doctor Matthew who introduced us to Smile Train,” Amarachi’s mother narrated in an interview with this Reporter.
It was Dr. Matthew, she said, who told her that, “Cleft are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form well during the first trimester of pregnancy, and that it can be corrected through surgery.”
According to experts, Cleft lip and palate are commonly called orofacial cleft which are thought to be caused by a combination of genes and other factors, such as that the mother comes in contact with in her environment, or what the mother eats or drinks during pregnancy. Medical practitioners have noted that some certain medications like epilepsy drugs taken by expectancy mother are said to cause cleft.
Effects of cleft on patients could be poor feeding habits, poor weight gain, speech and language deformity. Other physiological and emotional effects are rejection, fear, inferiority complex, poor bonding to mention but a few.
Recounting how Amarachi has been a subject of stigma associated with Cleft Lips and the effect this has had on her, the mother said, “It has not been easy with me as well. People would always ask me what happened to my daughter, requesting to know if she having saliva in her mouth, why is she talking like this, and so many other questions. Some people purposely asked this questions to make me feel bad.
“I try ignoring them because it hurts me seeing her talk that way but there was nothing I could do. I would tell some of them that I gave birth to her not knowing she had problem with speaking properly until she started speaking, I only gave these answers to those who genuinely cared to know. She narrated. Sadly even family members mocked her daughter due to the way she spoke.
“One day my daughter came back from school and asked when we’re going for the surgery the doctor talked about, I told her I don’t know. She complained bitterly that her class mates made fun of her at school. She narrated an incident when her teacher asked questions, when she stood up to answer those questions her class mates started laughing and making fun of her because of the way she spoke. Her words didn’t come out well and the teacher could not understand what she was saying. She came back and begged that we go for the surgery. She told me, ‘Mummy let’s go for the surgery so I can be be able to talk properly again.’ It was a painful experience,” Mrs Ogbonna said.
Speaking on how the journey to Amarachi regaining her smiles started, Mrs Ogbonna said, “At first I refused because I thought my daughter was above the age of being operated and we could not afford the cost, especially that we were resident in Benue state.”
“The church I worship brought Smile Train to my notice. During an awareness programme they brought the picture of a child that sustained what looked like an injury on her lips. They announced that if you know, see, or have any one that has this kind of issue he or she should come. This announcement was made on a Friday and we were told to come to the hospital the next Monday. I took my daughter to the hospital for her to be accessed on.
“On meeting Dr. Matthew, he confirmed that she had cleft palate and that surgery needs to be done. He advised that we come to Enugu for the surgery. At first I kicked against coming to Enugu for the surgery because of the distance and risk involved. Dr Matthew encouraged me to take my daughter there. Today. We are here at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Enugu for her surgery which was fully sponsored by Smile Train,” Amarachi’s mother recounted.
Amarachi was eventually operated on by Dr. Ifeanyichukwu Onah, a renowned plastic surgeon at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu, Enugu State who has been working with Smile Train on the 26th of October, 2023.
The day was, indeed memorable, as the family were uncertain about the outcome, just as the reporter, who was at the Theatre room to witness the operation live. The theatre had been specially built with funding and technical support from Smile Train to handle cases of Cleft lips and Palate repair surgeries.
Dr. Onah, in a chat with this reporter prior to the surgical operation on Amarachi said that she had earlier been checked to see if she was set for the surgery and she passed all the requirements.
At the end of the operation, Mrs Ogbonna could not believe her eyes as there were visible signs that her daughter would be able to smile and speak well again.
She also affirmed that smile train made provision for a speech and language therapist to help her with words.
A follow up by this reporter revealed that Amarachi has transformed remarkably and has recovered a lot from the operation, as she is now able to speak well and smile heartily after the free surgery she benefited from Smile Train.
Smiles Train is the largest cleft- focused organisation that operates in over 70 countries in the world, Including Nigeria. It has over time continued to equip local media professionals with adequate training, funding and resources towards providing free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children allover the world.
In a recent press release issued on 16th October, 2023, Smiles Train announced that it has entered into a partnership with Lifebox safe surgery and anaesthesia initiative, in a multi-year strategic partnerships towards elevating the quality and safety of cleft and pediatric surgery across the globe.