Festive smiles on the cards for Garden Route children

The George Regional Hospital Smile Week, sponsored by the Clicks Helping Hand Trust, takes place from 3 to 5 December 2018 at the George Regional Hospital.

In 2014, when the very first Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) outreach Smile Week was held at the George Regional Hospital, Dr Saleigh Adams, RCWMCH Senior Consultant – Plastics, included a young doctor who aspired to be a Plastic Surgeon and was determined to be part of the Smile Week. Four years later, that doctor – Dr Bruce Lelala – has gone on to prove himself in the Department of Plastics at the University of Cape Town.  This event brings his story full circle, and Bruce will once again stand side by side with Dr Adams and two visiting surgeons from other regions of South Africa in the theatres next week, as he assists in the surgeries of 22 children as part of 2018 George Regional Hospital Smile Week, sponsored by The Clicks Helping Hand Trust.

Originally from Matatiele, a small town in the Eastern Cape, Bruce has overcome significant obstacles to achieve this dream. When he was in Grade 9, his father was retrenched from the mine where he worked, leaving Bruce’s mother the sole breadwinner. Recognising her son’s potential and seeing his growing passion for medicine, she took out several loans to pay for his tuition fees at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, all the while continuing to support the family.

Bruce never forgot the sacrifices his mother made, and repaid her with hard work and determination. This, along with a fortuitous meeting with Dr Adams and the chance to assist in the first George Regional Hospital Smile Week, set Bruce on his future path. Now, with just one more paper to write before he qualifies as a plastic surgeon, nothing stands in the way of Dr Bruce Lelala becoming the doctor he always dreamed he could be.

This is just one example of the opportunity Smile Week offers to upskill medical students with a passion for plastic and reconstructive surgery – and change their life, so they can go on to change the lives of others undergoing operations.

One of the patients who will be assisted 12-year-old Bella, who was born with a giant cell nevus – a mass formed by the union of several cells – on the back of her neck and upper back. She has undergone 20 operations since she was three months old. This time, part of the mass will be removed and new skin tissue grafted over the excise site to improve the appearance of the area, which causes Bella significant emotional distress.

“Smile Week in George has become synonymous with sacrifice and hard work but hard work that ends in joy and laughter. A win for all concerned: patients, their families, the community, caregivers, support staff, donors and South African society at large. This year is no exception but this year, our 5th event, highlights the “circle of life “and how South Africa has been enriched in the true sense. Dr Bruce Lelala was discovered at the inaugural event and this year he returns not as onlooker but as participant in the very Smile Week that has shaped his future. We have no doubt that he will go on to further transform the lives of others in the true South African spirit of Ubuntu.” Says Saleigh Adams, Senior Consultant at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Moira Gerszt, Smile Foundation Operations Director, says the stories of Bella and Dr Lelala, and how they have been, and continue to be, shaped by Dr Saleigh Adams in collaboration with Dr Ben Emmink at George Regional Hospital and the medical staff involved, speak to the true power of the Smile Foundation and the work it does in South African communities.

“This is such an inspirational story. I constantly marvel at the life-changing opportunities our work affords young people, but to see how one young doctor, touched by the work of Dr Adams and his team, took this to heart and is now helping others, is just great. We are so grateful for the ongoing support and mentorship of Dr Adams, but also for his time and expertise in helping to change the lives of these children from George. None of it would be possible without the personal investment of each and every team member, as well as the funds so generously donated for the second year running by The Clicks Helping Hand Trust,” Gerszt explains.

“We are both proud and excited to host the 5th Smile Campaign at George Hospital.  The previous “Smile Weeks” have been a tremendous success. Held early in December for the past 4 years, these surgical campaigns have become a highlight on our annual hospital calendar. The Smile Foundation team always brings a wonderful energy to the hospital and as we head rapidly towards the festive season, it creates a tremendous feeling of goodwill amongst staff to participate in giving this most precious of gifts to our young patients. Its takes a great team effort to coordinate the surgeries and I would like to thank all of the staff at Smile Foundation, their sponsors, as well as the clinicians and George Hospital staff..” says Michael Vonk, CEO at George Hospital.

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