Table 6: the table of anguish 

Last April Operation Smile organised a medical mission to Zomba, Malawi to bring much-needed surgery to children born with cleft lip and cleft palate.

It was a remarkable visit: the team managed to screen over 200 children and operated on 119 patients in five days.

But not all the stories were happy and positive.

Left - Noah Phiri and right is Nowell Phirie with Mother in screening  (1).JPG

Twin brothers, Noah and Nowell were brought to the Operation Smile medical mission by their mother and grandmother for screening. Noah was chosen for his operation, but Nowell wasn't fit for surgery when we saw him.

Patients waiting for announcement.JPG

On every mission, after screening comes announcement day. In Zomba five tables represented the operation tables where selected children were given the good news that they would receive surgery. However, Table 6 is where 83 families were sent to be gently told that their child would not receive surgery this time

Table 6 was where Nowell was sent. 

Table #6 turn aways.JPG

In the photo above you can see the piles of yellow medical folders on Table 6 with the details of children who have been turned away on this occasion. Some like Nowell had chest infections. Others had illnesses like malaria or diarrhoea, while many others were malnourished or just too young. Whatever the reason, if surgery would have been too dangerous for them, we had to say that they could not receive surgery this time.

Group of surgical volunteers explaining why patients cannot have surgery 02.JPG

That can be devastating for a family to hear. Many have travelled hundreds of miles to come and see us, and have pinned all their hopes on the surgery we can provide. A simple operation means that their child no longer has to live in social isolation with fears of derision and rejection. 

Operation Smile work needs to go further to help these children. Many of them need to be on nutritional supplements or antibiotics to make sure they are fit and healthy for an operation in the future. Moreover, in countries like Malawi and Madagascar, Operation Smile has also launched a feeding programme to provide families of patients with nutritional counselling, healthy cooking demonstrations and feeding technique support. Operation Smile local volunteers and staff constantly follow up with families and patients to make sure their health conditions are improving and they will be able to receive surgery during the next medical mission. 

 Nowell Phiri pre screening.JPG

Editor’s note. Nowell and Noah’s story was featured on our recent appeal. You can help us turn Table 6 from a table of anguish to a table of hope


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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President