Monjura and Mohamed of Patiya, Bangladesh were the proud parents of four healthy daughters, but when they learned that another child was on the way, the couple hoped for a son. When the child was delivered, the room fell completely silent. Monjura laughed and readied herself to welcome another little girl to the family, but with each moment of prolonged silence, Monjura knew that something was different — she learned that her long-awaited son, Naim, had been born with a cleft lip and palate.
Monjura said the first weeks at home were the most difficult, as Naim would choke and spit up at every feeding due to his clefts. The family felt powerless as Naim lost so much weight that they were unsure whether he would survive. Mohamed recalled, “We didn’t know what a cleft was, let alone know how to help Naim. We were upset and worried – he was so small and got so sick. Naim’s future was uncertain. I thought, ‘Will he ever be able to attend school, get married, or find happiness?’”
To make the situation worse, many people in the community blamed the clefts on Monjura, as a local superstition falsely holds that clefts are caused by mothers using a knife during an eclipse. However, in a fortuitous coincidence, this community gossip alerted a neighbour to the family’s predicament. The neighbour was the relative of a former Smile Train patient who had been told by the local Smile Train cleft surgeon that the only cost of the cleft surgery was to spread the word about Smile Train to anyone who needed help. The neighbour finally found her chance and ran over to Monjura’s house to tell her that the knife superstition was untrue, and that help was available in Chittagong.
In quick succession, Monjura called Smile Train’s local partner, LMRF Children’s Hospital, to set up an appointment. Naim and his eldest sister Tahera boarded a bus, and finally Naim received his free Smile Train-sponsored cleft lip surgery. Tahera said she was worried when Naim returned from surgery, as he was still swollen and had stitches and bandages. “But, in just a few hours, his face was completely transformed, and we knew we’d made the right decision. We were so happy,” said Tahera.
When Tahera and Naim returned home after the surgery, everyone in their neighbourhood came to see them. To pay forward the kindness of the neighbour who brought them to Smile Train, the family now scouts their local area for children living with untreated clefts to spread information about cleft lip and palate. They have Naim as proof to any scared families out there that their children will be okay.
Naim has gone on to have a cleft palate surgery, and his parents report that he is doing well and has many friends. Monjura says he will attend school when he’s old enough, and she personally hopes that he will become a cleft surgeon. It’s undeniable that, after a free cleft surgery, the family has returned to a bright and happy outlook for their first son.
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