Scenes of Healing: Madagascar Medical Missions

Continued from “Scenes of Hope: Madagascar Medical Missions.”

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One-year-old Manda gets a kiss from his mom after arriving at the hospital on the first day of surgery at the Antsirabe medical mission site. Manda is one of the 350 patients who received safe surgery during the four missions that Operation Smile conducted simultaneously in Madagascar to mark the 10-year anniversary of its work in the country. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Child life specialist Amy Patterson of the United States, right, watches as 14-year-old Irongany helps her fellow patient, 22-month-old Teddy, try out an anaesthesia mask with his mother while being prepared for surgery at the Antsirabe mission site. Using equipment like anaesthesia masks during therapeutic play sessions is a method that child life specialists use to help children understand and become more comfortable with the medical setting, easing their nerves prior to being admitted into the operating room. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.



Operation Smile medical volunteers prepare the operating room for a day of surgeries at the Antsirabe mission site. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Malagasy cleft surgeon observers Drs. Briand Michel Rakotomanga, left, and Ravaka Ny Aina Rakotorahalahy, third from the left, watch as Dr. Lora Mae de Guzman of the Philippines operates and Hasina Ramiakajoto translates as part of the Cleft Surgeon Training Program during Antsirabe medical mission. Operation Smile invests in the training and education of cleft surgeons and other medical professionals in Madagascar to help boost the health system's ability to provide safe, effective and timely surgical care. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Brunel, 4, who we featured in our previous post, gets one last check of her vital signs from paediatrician Shelly Batra of the U.S. before being omitted into the operating room for her life-changing cleft surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

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In the post-operative ward after her surgery, Brunel and her father share a heart-warming embrace. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Charlotte Steppling, programme manager for Operation Smile in Madagascar, talks to participants of the feeding program at the patient shelter of the Antsirabe mission site. Parents and caregivers of children who are not chosen for surgery because they are underweight or malnourished are invited to join the feeding program, a three-day program of educational workshops about health and nutrition including culinary demonstrations, one-on-one consultations and ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) distribution. The goal of the program is to have its patients gain weight and become healthy enough to receive surgery at a future Operation Smile medical program. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Octavio, age 7, Jean Rolland, 11, Frederic, 15, and Andriamamitiana, 10, share a laugh as they wait to be checked in for surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.



At the Majunga mission site, Malagasy volunteer nurses Tsiory Andrianjatovo and Ysma Rafalimamonjy pose for a photo outside of the hospital. Both nurses began volunteering for Operation Smile in 2017 in Antsirabe and were two of the hospital mentees from the surgical training rotations held there later that year. Operation Smile Program Coordinator Drea Meyer said, “For those that have worked with them previously, it is clear that they have not only grown into their roles on our team, but also gained confidence in their nursing ability through working with Operation Smile. Ysma was chosen to deliver a speech to all of our patients prior to announcement to help ease the minds of the families with the news of whether or not their child would receive surgery. The two have also become great friends volunteering together. Both are a part of the next wave of volunteers we are building on credentialing here in Madagascar.” Photo: Drea Meyer.

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Mrs. Landy, pictured here, is one of Operation Smile's patient advocates in Madagascar and was a crucial team member at the Majunga mission site. Mrs. Landy was born with a cleft palate, but never received surgery. She first heard of Operation Smile when she brought her daughter, Lucia, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, to one of our missions in 2015. While Lucia's lip was repaired at that mission, malnutrition twice prevented her from receiving surgery from Operation Smile before she arrived at the July 2017 surgical training rotation in Antsirabe. There, Lucia was entered into the feeding program and received RUTF. In less than two months, she gained enough weight to receive her palate surgery. Feeling a debt of gratitude toward Operation Smile, Mrs. Landy committed herself to finding and helping families like her’s access life-changing cleft care. She brought more than 65 patients and their caregivers from her region to the Majunga site and also assisted with patient coordination duties during the mission. The medical team at the site was more than happy to give back to Mrs. Landy – Malagasy dentist Dr. Richard Rakotoarison fitted with her with a cleft palate obturator, helping her to eat and speak with less difficulty. Operation Smile Program Coordinator Drea Meyer said, “I asked her what inspired her to do this work with Operation Smile, and she responded with three reasons. She said there is no way she can properly thank the organisation for all they have done for her daughter, and this is her way of giving back. Secondly, when she was first traveling to our missions, many people from her community did not believe that surgery was possible and were too afraid to take the chance. Lastly, to help those from her region get over these fears, she wants to travel with them, as it is easier to attend the mission if you have accompaniment and someone to relate to.” Photo: Drea Meyer.

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Alfred, pictured here walking into the operating room with post-anaesthesia care unit physician Isabelle Simoneau of the U.S., lived for 52 years with his cleft lip before this day at the Antsirabe mission site. He never knew that surgery could repair his condition until a patient advocate knocked on his door and told him that Operation Smile could provide him with free, safe surgery. For Alfred, this was especially good news, as his brother was also born with a cleft condition and lived his entire life in hiding because of it. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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Shortly after his cleft lip surgery, Alfred shares his new smile with cleft surgeon Bart Stubenitsky of the Netherlands in a special moment in the recovery room. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.


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As the 10-year anniversary missions in Madagascar came to a close, patients and their families offered their thanks to the Operation Smile medical teams with songs and dancing at the patient villages of each site. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President