Witsies help children smile

Tanisha Heiberg 

Bodhisatya Chakraborty , Brenna Weaver, Wesley Verhoogt, Stephanie Van Straten, Graeme Moore, Stephan Maritz, Nadia Ann Marengo, Seohee Lee, Jason Le Roux, Katherine Klaasen,  Robert Jaich, Matthew Grant, Greg Douglas, Heliodora De Lima, and Mogali De La Kethulle, who formed part of a team of 17 students who climbed Kilimanjaro in 2014 to raise funds for the Smile Foundation.  Photo: Provided

Brenna Weaver, Robert Jaich, Magali De La Kethulle, Graeme Moore, Katherine Klaasen, Greg Douglas, Wesley Verhoogt, Heliodora De Lima, Stephan Maritz, Kanika Sinha, Nadia Ann Marengo, Bodhisatya Chakraborty, and Matthew Grant (from left) who formed part of a team of 17 students who climbed Kilimanjaro in 2014 to raise funds for the Smile Foundation. Photo: Provided

Smiling and laughing will no longer be a mountain to climb for two children suffering from facial paralysis. An eight and six year old child received life changing reconstructive surgery after Wits medical students summit-ed their own mountain of fears to raise funds.

A group of 17 medical students from the Wits Surgical Society raised over R600 000 by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and taking part in the 2014 Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge. The money they raised allowed them to assist the children who suffered from a rare nerve condition called Moebius Syndrome that causes facial paralysis. Facial paralysis can have negative developmental and psychological effects on young children suffering from the disorder.

“It is so hard to relate to someone without facial expressions…it really does change their lives”

Stephanie van Straten, President of the Wits Students Surgical Society explained the importance of the procedure is due to the public sector not prioritizing it because it is very expensive and highly specialized. “It is so hard to relate to someone without facial expressions…it really does change their lives.” The initiative to face their fears and summit the mountain came from 5th year student Graeme Moore in association with the non-governmental, Smile Foundation. “These children have to face their fears undergoing an operation…which must be a really scary thing to do especially when you’re a small child… we hoped to overcome our biggest fear”, said Stephanie

The student’s hard work finally paid off at the end of last month when both children received the surgery to help restore movement to their face and ultimately allow them to express their emotions.

Stephanie highlighted the importance of doing the procedure in young children, who have the ability to recover faster and learn how to smile. “They take the muscle from your leg and they transplant it to your cheek…initially to smile, the child will need to grit their teeth but over time it will become more spontaneous…the older (patient) you are the less likely that the smile will be spontaneous”

Through the fundraising they are also able to renovate the pediatric ward at the General hospital to make it a more child friendly. “We are hoping to make it Kilimanjaro themed… a hospital is often very scary for children, the less intimidating the better for their healing.”

This won’t be the last initiative for the Surgical Society whose focus is on furthering education, participating in outreach programs and providing workshops to develop skills. Plans are already in place to take part in this year’s 94.7 Cycle Challenge with all students welcome to join their team.