A 9-year-old Western Cape girl, who was born without an ear, will finally receive the new one she and her family have been waiting for. She is one of 18 children in the province who will receive life-changing reconstructive surgery during Smile Week at Tygerberg Hospital from November 9-13, proudly supported by BigShoe.

Smile Week has been taking place at Tygerberg Hospital annually since 2008. It is the first time Smile Week is taking place at the hospital since lockdown measures were implemented in March.

At Tygerberg Hospital, approximately 110 children have had their surgeries cancelled due to the virus. The surgeries will aim to address the backlog which has emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specialist Plastic Surgeon Dr Alexander Zühlke says the backlog threatens to have major ramifications for children waiting for surgery, adding that many have already suffered further complications as a result of the delay.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has an impact on all facets of life but particularly on the health system and resulted in a large number of patients desperately waiting for their procedure to be done. We are extremely excited for this opportunity by the Smile Foundation in partnership with BigShoe which will greatly help to decrease our backlog of children requiring facial reconstructive procedures,” he says.

“Due to COVID-19 pandemic these surgeries had to be postponed, we cannot do that any longer, it is quite critical that we resume with non-COVID health services. I’m excited to be part of this initiative that brings smile to babies born with facial anomalies such as cleft lip, cleft palate, nose and ear conditions, burns and craniofacial abnormalities,” said Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo.

“My biggest gratitude goes to everyone who has made this possible, the funders BigShoe, Smile Foundation and all the healthcare workers. Thank you for always serving with integrity.”

One of the children receiving an operation is nine-year-old Stacey-Lee who was born with Microtia. Microtia is a birth deformity where the external ear is underdeveloped and ranges from a smaller ear to a completely absent ear.

Microtia affects usually one side only but may be present on both sides. One in every 6000 babies (estimate between 2 – 10.000 children) is born with this anomaly. It involves the outer ear and to a varying degree the ear canal but in most cases the inner ear is intact. The causes of microtia among most infants are unknown. Microtia can also be part of a syndrome and caused by genetic abnormalities.

As it often affects self-esteem because of the visible differences between themselves and other children, surgery is indicated to reconstruct the external ear.

When Stacey-Lee was born at Eben Donges Hospital in Worcester in 2011, her parents were completely shocked to discover she had a small amount of cartilage where her left ear should’ve been.

Her mom Eloise had not gone for a scan prior to the birth, so news of Stacey-Lee’s condition came as a complete surprise. Eloise says it was hardest for her older siblings aged 13 and 4 years at the time.

Eloise says while Stacey-Lee’s condition has been incredibly difficult for the family to deal with, they have and will continue to support one another through the challenges.

“It has been a long road as we were referred back and forth.  But at long last, Stacey-Lee will be assisted,” said her mom.

She says while Stacey-Lee is able to function normally and be herself at home, her biggest obstacle is her schooling because she struggles to hear and is often teased by her peers about her condition.

“Hearing is difficult for Stacey-Lee which is why her teachers have to repeat a lot in order for her to understand. She is very shy, only playing for short periods or not wanting to play at all as her peers often tease her about her condition.”

Hedley Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of Smile Foundation said: “We are incredibly fortunate to be in a position to collaborate with the incredibly dedicated medical staff at Tygerberg Hospital. We are in awe of the constant enthusiasm, compassion and dedication this incredible team of surgeons and nurses show to their patients every single day.”

Hedley says it is this unwavering dedication that enables children like Stacey-Lee to undergo life-changing surgery.

“The unprecedented COVID-led backlog in elective surgeries, has affected hundreds of children countrywide. Smile Foundation aims to assist as many of these children as we possibly can, but we need the funding to do so. Without the generosity of organisations like BigShoe, big corporates, and ordinary members of the public, we would not be able to support such life-changing work.”

Picture: Facebook / Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo

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