Editor’s note: This is the story of Kelvin, a 1-year-old boy from Ghana who received cleft lip surgery from Operation Smile in November 2019 – the month before his first birthday. Kelvin is the baby who portrays Ramata in the hybrid documentary film “Love Always Prevails,” which tells the story of Ramata’s mother, Mariana, and how she persevered through incredible hardships to ensure that her daughter received the surgery she deserved. Hybrid documentary films are created in a unique way, as a true story is scripted and filmed in direct collaboration with the people who lived the reality. We believe that this style of storytelling creates an emotional and intimate opportunity for the viewer to connect directly with our patients’ stories. We also worked in close collaboration with Felicia, Kelvin’s adoptive mother, who enthusiastically agreed to have her child play this role, so that Operation Smile can reach and treat more patients like Kelvin all around the world. We are very grateful and humbled to work with these families and appreciate their determination and compassion wholeheartedly.
A precious gift to her parents, Kelvin was born on Christmas Eve 2018.
But in Ghana, where he was born, the stigma surrounding cleft conditions is severe and deeply rooted; many people believe that babies born with cleft aren’t worthy of love.
This included Kelvin’s biological parents.
“My younger sister said she didn’t want a baby with a cleft, so she just ran away,” said Felicia, Kelvin’s aunt.
After her sister abandoned Kelvin, Felicia decided to adopt her nephew. She’s been raising him as her own son ever since.
“There was no one to take care of him, and I couldn’t leave him to die,” she said.
Felicia had never seen anyone with a cleft condition before. And although she didn’t know if a solution was out there, Felicia refused to walk away like her sister did.
While Felicia loves Kelvin, her life became very difficult after she made the decision to adopt him. She used to make a living as a trader, selling containers of water in the market.
“Now that I have this baby, I can no longer go to the market,” Felicia said. “I have to strap him to my back, and as soon as people see what he looks like, they don’t want to buy anything from me anymore. I have to beg people for money so I can feed him.”
Felicia felt relief and happiness when she learned that Operation Smile Ghana provides safe surgical care for patients like Kelvin. She saw an interview of patient coordinator Clement Ofosuhemeng on a national news broadcast and immediately called him to begin Kelvin’s care journey.
They traveled to Ho in April 2019 with the hopes that he would receive surgery from an Operation Smile medical mission. But after performing a comprehensive health evaluation, medical volunteers determined that Kelvin couldn’t be scheduled for surgery because he exhibited signs of malnourishment in addition to having contracted a cold.
“I don’t like to take him outside because when I do, he gets sick. He’s always sick,” Felicia said. “I don’t have money, so when I run out of food for Kelvin, I have to go out and ask people for it. I need someone to help me take care of him.”
Through increasing education and promoting good health, Operation Smile Ghana aims to reduce malnutrition and illness as barriers preventing children from receiving safe surgery.
Before Felicia and Kelvin left the patient shelter to return home, volunteer dietitian Dede Kwadjo, who runs the nutrition programme for Operation Smile Ghana, evaluated Kelvin and gave Felicia helpful advice about the types of food that Kelvin needs to eat in order for him to become healthy enough for safe surgery.
“We train our mothers to use what they have to create nutritious food for their children. We ask what they have available: fish, beans, banana. Then, we work with them to create a practical solution, teaching them how to help their child,” Dede said.
“I will feed him well so he can gain weight and grow stronger,” Felicia said.
Felicia hasn’t heard from her sister since she left Kelvin shortly after his birth. She has no idea where she is. But after learning that Kelvin couldn’t receive surgery yet, Felicia refused to give up hope.
In August 2019, Felicia and Kelvin attended a mission in Cape Coast that was conducted entirely of Ghanaian medical volunteers, but again, they left heartbroken: Kelvin developed a cough before his medical evaluation, so he was unable to receive surgery.
Finally, in November 2019, Felicia and Kelvin traveled to Koforidua in another attempt at getting him the surgery that he needs and deserves. This time, Kelvin was deemed healthy and received cleft lip surgery.
Kelvin’s surgery came within the first year of his life, which is the best time for a baby to receive a cleft lip surgery.
Felicia said that she hopes to spread the word about the work that Operation Smile Ghana is accomplishing in the country.
“If I see someone else with a cleft, I will advise them and encourage them and ensure them that they should come and be seen by the doctors at Operation Smile.”