Scenes of Hope and Healing: Antsirabe Medical Mission

More than 300 potential patients and their families arrived for screening during Operation Smile’s April 2019 medical mission in Antsirabe, Madagascar. With so few doctors in the country who specialise in cleft and craniofacial surgery, the need for cleft care in Madagascar is great. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Adeline with her 2-year-old son, Rindra, left, and Rolland with his 5-year old daughter, Lanto, were one of the families who hoped that their children would receive a free surgery from Operation Smile. The 2019 mission was Rolland and Adeline’s third attempt at getting Rindra and Lanto the life-changing care that they needed.

In 2017, they missed the bus to the mission due to a miscommunication. In 2018, they weren’t aware that a mission was taking place. But Rolland and Adeline never stopped believing that they would have another opportunity. And when Rolland learned about the Antsirabe mission, he walked four hours to the nearest hospital to register both children.

After passing her comprehensive health evaluation, Lanto was placed on the surgical standby list and eventually received surgery to repair her cleft lip. Sadly, due to arriving at the mission underweight and with an upper respiratory infection, Rindra was not cleared for surgery. Hearing that their son couldn’t receive surgery was very devastating for Adeline and Rolland. But after attending the feeding programme that was held during the mission, Adeline’s hope for Rindra grew when she learned important lessons about well-balanced meals and hygiene care.

Rindra was one of 52 children registered in the programme during the mission. And by educating parents like Adeline, medical volunteers hope to see each child arrive at the next mission healthy, strong and ready for surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Nine-year-old Marie Angeline, also known as Feno by her family, is one of four children. Her and her father, Daniel, arrived in Antsirabe after travelling 4 hours – by foot – to a bus that took them to the mission site. Feno’s mother, Marie Denise, and Daniel had never seen anyone with a cleft condition before. Both parents were incredibly shocked when Feno was born because none of their other children were born with a cleft. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Eleven-year-old Clara smiles widely as she stands among many potential patients. After receiving cleft lip surgery when she was 8 years old, Clara returned to Antsirabe with her father, Dede, for an additional surgery on her cleft palate. Clara had a lovely time meeting new friends and seeing old ones during the mission. Some of the medical volunteers who recognised Clara were thrilled to see how confident and outgoing she had become. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

Feno and Daniel wait with hundreds of other families at the patient village. She was one of 343 potential patients who received a comprehensive health evaluation after travelling long distances by foot, boat and bus to reach the international medical mission.

Daniel told medical volunteers that the reason Feno hasn’t started school isn’t because of her cleft condition. It’s because the closest school is a two- to three-hour walk from their home, and he wants Feno to be a little older before making that long journey. But during the mission, Feno admitted that she’s scared to go to school and would often tell her father, “I don’t want to go to school because I have a cleft lip, and I am not normal.” Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Anaesthesiologist Dr. Nicoletta Fioretti of Italy examines a young patient’s lungs as part of her comprehensive health evaluation. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Anaesthesiologist Dr. Maura Albicini of Italy poses with a young patient and his father during one of the two patient screening days. A total of 13 nationalities, representing the countries of Madagascar, Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, South Africa, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Australia, Colombia, Brazil, Canada and the U.S. came together to provide screening, surgery and post-operative care for patients. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Surgeons Drs. Billy Magee of the U.S., left, Valeria Battista of Italy and David Chong of Australia discuss surgical options for a young patient during the second day of comprehensive health evaluations. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Daniel and Feno are all smiles as they pose for a photo with plastic surgeon Dr. Luca Autelitano of Italy and anaesthesiologist Dr. Nicoletta Fioretti of Italy. Drs. Autelitano and Fioretti were part of the medical team who helped repair Feno’s smile. With a huge grin, Daniel said that he was “faly,” meaning very happy, with the care that his daughter received from Operation Smile’s medical and non-medical volunteers and staff. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Clara calmly sits on the operating room table as the Operation Smile medical team prepares her for additional cleft palate surgery. Patient imaging technician Eli Zakariasy of Madagascar, left, waits to take the facial medical photos that assist the surgeon in completing their work. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

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After passing her comprehensive health evaluation, Feno plays in the child life area to learn more about what will happen after she enters the operating room. Through playing with medical props, young patients like Feno see what tools will be used during the surgical process so they won’t be surprised or frightened when they go into surgery.

Friends and neighbours often called Feno, “sima,” a derogatory term for cleft. While waiting for her operation, Feno shared what she was most excited about after her surgery: People will stop calling her “sima” and start calling her Feno. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Clara proudly shares her beautiful smile. After passing her comprehensive health evaluation, Clara became one of the 109 patients who received safe surgical care at Operation Smile’s medical mission in Antsirabe, Madagascar. This was Clara’s third surgery that she received, and Dede is incredibly proud of the person that his daughter has become during their journey with Operation Smile.

With dreams of becoming a doctor, Clara hopes to make a difference and help children like herself. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.