The life he always deserved began after 18 years

Man with repaired cleft lip sitting outside the bank he works at.
Samuel received surgery during Operation Smile’s 2015 surgical programme in Ho. Today, he’s happy with his new smile and works as a security guard at a bank in Accra. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

In the three years after receiving surgery to repair his cleft lip, Samuel’s life has changed in unimaginable ways.

After arriving at the Ghana Commercial Bank office where Samuel works as a security guard, we were introduced to his friend and supervisor Sadat.

Remembering back to his life before surgery, Samuel began telling us about his cleft care journey and the memories he made with the volunteers from Operation Smile Ghana.

Hearing many of Samuel’s stories for the first time, Sadat was astonished. He had no idea that Samuel lived 18 years of his life with an unrepaired cleft lip.

Looking at the caring and kind man who had become his friend, Sadat never imagined that Samuel had gone through so much pain at the hands of others.

Today, Samuel is now living a life free from the stigma and harassment of being born with a cleft condition – a sharp contrast from how he spent his childhood.

Man with a cleft lip wearing a blue shirt
Samuel, before surgery. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

As a teenager, Samuel was treated as an outcast. According to him, many of the other children in his community refused to get physically close to him because of the deeply rooted stigma surrounding cleft conditions in Ghana.

He spent years of his early life being laughed at by others who couldn’t look past his cleft lip and see the kindness and joy he had to offer. Regardless of whether he was at school or simply walking down the street, Samuel couldn’t protect himself against the teasing and harmful treatment.

But despite the pain and loneliness he felt daily, Samuel’s strength and determination proved more powerful than the thoughts he had about ending his life.

Life wasn’t perfect, but Samuel felt the unconditional love and support from his parents, grandparents and eight siblings who all hoped that his life would one day become brighter.

For nearly two decades, his hope of finding a solution for his cleft condition remained only a hope – until he heard an announcement for Operation Smile Ghana on the radio.

Eager to learn more, Samuel’s dad called the Operation Smile Ghana hotline and discovered that the high-quality cleft care the organisation provides to people like his son would come at no cost to the family.

An Operation Smile medical volunteer examines a patient with a cleft lip during a medical mission
During day one of screening at a 2015 Operation Smile Ghana surgical programme in Ho, Samuel is evaluated by anaesthesiologists Drs. Clive Duke, left, and Phil McDonald of the U.K., right. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Three months later, Samuel and his older sister made the six-hour journey from their home to eastern Ghana.

Unsure of what to expect once he arrived, Samuel quickly became flooded with relief as he surveyed the mission site and saw the masses of people who looked just like him.

In his mind, he was surrounded by people who’d likely experienced the same painful treatment and feelings of loneliness that he’d felt growing up. From that moment on, instead of feeling isolated, Samuel was happy.

To ensure the safety of every patient, Operation Smile medical volunteers perform comprehensive evaluations to determine if someone is healthy enough to undergo surgery.

The day after his health evaluation, the hopes that Samuel and his family had been grasping on to his entire life were realised.

Operation Smile Ghana’s team of highly trained medical professionals had deemed Samuel healthy enough to receive the surgery that would change his life forever.

With one surgery that people born with cleft conditions deserve to have much earlier in life, 18-year-old Samuel felt as though a new life for himself had just begun.

With his newfound happiness and confidence, Samuel went on to graduate high school and moved to northern Ghana to work on the farm with his family.

For the first time in his life, he felt accepted by everyone in his community and no longer watched as people withdrew from him or heard their hushed comments as he walked by them.

After a few months of living with his family, he decided that he wanted – and deserved – to strive for more. With opportunity at his fingertips, Samuel chose to follow his own path, which led him to moving to a big city and landing a job as a security guard.

Since his surgery, Samuel has gained a supportive group of friends. He loves playing soccer on his days off from the bank and simply enjoys the life he’s created. He also has aspirations of one day joining the military.

Surgery gave him a new smile, but Samuel gave himself a happier life by using the courage he always had within himself to go after what he deserved.

Man with a repaired cleft proudly standing in his work uniform
Three years after his cleft lip surgery, Samuel smiles proudly in his security guard uniform. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

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Our promise of improving health and dignity during the Covid-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep families safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence.