“Some day” finally arrives for Seth

Seth, before surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We’re helping frontline health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

In Ghana, a country known for having deeply rooted and widespread social stigma surrounding cleft conditions, many people like Seth endure lives filled with pain.

Constantly living in isolation and being fearful of harassment from members of their communities, some people affected by cleft grow up feeling hopeless and unworthy of love or happiness.

Lacking awareness of the cause of cleft conditions, people in Seth’s community often insulted him. In school, he struggled to make friends and would often choose to skip break time with hopes of avoiding the harmful treatment from some of his classmates.

Throughout his childhood, Seth frequently asked his mother, “Why am I like this?”

Born with a cleft lip in rural Ghana, neither Seth nor his mother knew that there were organisations like Operation Smile devoted to helping people like Seth.

The years following his childhood were full of dark times for Seth.

Believing that being alone was his only escape from the insults and abuse, Seth isolated himself, which deepened his self-doubt and unhappiness.

Seth shared that the worst part of living with an unrepaired cleft condition was looking into a mirror because he said it reminded him that he was “not complete.”

To him, this meant he’d never have a fulfilling life.

Seth spent years battling depression, often asking God to forgive him for whatever it was that he believed he’d done wrong and to heal his smile.

There were even instances throughout his life that Seth considered suicide. But in those moments, he reminded himself of his mum, who continually reassured him that they’d one day meet someone who will help him.

Seth waited 34 years for that day to arrive.

The course of Seth’s life changed in March of 2015 when he saw a flyer for Operation Smile Ghana.

Patient coordinator Clement Ofosuhemeng carries Operation Smile Ghana posters as he travels throughout remote villages recruiting patients and raising awareness for the organisation. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

Marvelling at the before and after pictures of others born with cleft conditions like him, he realised that a solution was possible, and it gave him a renewed hope that his “someday” may come soon.

There was an upcoming medical mission in Cape Coast. It was a long 10-hour journey from his home, but everything he experienced leading up to that moment made him determined to go.

After hours of travelling, he finally reached what he hoped was the beginning of his new life.

But there were hundreds of potential patients living with cleft conditions who attended the mission, all seeking life-changing surgery.

During a 2018 medical mission in Ghana, families of patients gather at the patient shelter on the second day of surgery. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

Unfortunately, due to the high demand for cleft care in Ghana, Seth was not placed on the surgical schedule at that time. There were too many patients in need.

Seth was devastated, but he refused to give up.

While he knew it wasn’t his turn yet, Seth also knew he was getting closer to his day and said that he believed God would find him another opportunity to get the surgery he deserved.

A few months later, Seth received a phone call from Operation Smile Ghana telling him about another mission in Ho.

The mission site was a little more than two hours from his home. So, once again, he bravely travelled away from his community, hopeful of finally receiving his transformative surgery that he’d waited on for 34 years.

Once Operation Smile medical volunteers deemed him healthy enough for surgery following his comprehensive health evaluation, Seth nervously waited to hear his name announced.

That day, when Seth was told he’d be receiving his new smile, he felt in his heart that the hardships he endured were coming to an end. Finally, Seth could be truly happy.

“I’m not worried because I know everything will be okay,” Seth said. “I will be able to go everywhere with confidence.”

Seth smiles wide alongside his friend. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

After returning home, Seth felt inspired by Operation Smile’s work in Ghana and wanted to be a part of it.

He hopes to become an advocate for the organisation and share his experience with others to help recruit more patients in need.

With his new smile, Seth gained confidence to chase after his dream.

“Before my surgery I never wanted to talk to people, now I am happy to talk to everyone,” he said. “I’m now in school to learn how to become a pastor. Before my surgery, I would never ever have considered becoming a pastor.”

Help us to continue keeping our promise to patients like Seth amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can help patients through these uncertain times and provide them with the care and surgery they deserve when it’s safe to resume our work.

Seth, after surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.