Christmas smiles for 15 children during Smile Week at George Regional Hospital

Christmas is coming early this year for 15 George children who will undergo transformative corrective surgery at George Regional Hospital as part of the Smile Foundation’s Smile Week taking place from 2 to 6 December 2019.                                    

Inclusive of this year’s Smile Week, a total of 90 children would have received life-changing surgeries at George Regional Hospital with the support of Smile Foundation and its generous sponsors.

The George Regional Hospital Smile Week is supported by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) which has supported three other Smile Weeks across South Africa this year.

The surgeries scheduled to be performed over the week include scar revision, ear reconstruction, cleft lip and palate repair, Alveolar bone graft and bilateral otoplasty.

Eleven-year-old Tahila is among the children receiving surgery. Tahila was diagnosed with Goldenhar Syndrome at birth, a very rare congenital defect characterised by incomplete development of the ear lobes, soft palate, lip and mandible. In 1 to 2% of cases, the condition is inherited as a genetic disorder.

Comments Moira Gerszt, Operations Director of Smile Foundation, “Tahila is a remarkable young girl and we are proud to be part of this life-changing surgery.

“With the deepest gratitude to the surgical team as part of the outreach programme from Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, George Regional Hospital and our generous sponsors, 90 children’s lives in George and within the Eden region have been positively transformed and we hope to impact the lives of several more in the coming year.”

Dr Adams began this Outreach Programme in 2014 as a high percentage of the children from this region have historically had to travel all the way to Cape Town for their surgeries. 

“With this project they can be close to their families and homes while the children receive this needed reconstructive surgery.  This #GivingTuesday we commend ACSA who has generously sponsored four Smile Weeks across the country this year, and we are enormously appreciative of their commitment to assisting young South Africans in need. #GivingTuesday is a movement to create an international day of charitable giving and ACSA are the perfect example of being altruistic in the true sense of the word.”

“We’re immensely grateful for the expertise of plastic and reconstructive surgeons Dr Saleigh Adams, Dr Bruce Lelala and Dr Destiny Links from C.T. and Dr Marshall Murdoch (private surgeon) from Knysna, as well as the committed staff at George Regional Hospital,” said Gerszt.

When Tahila was born at George Regional Hospital in 2008, her head was concave in shape, her face was skew and the shape of her ear was enlarged.  Today, the one side of Tahila’s face is totally lame; meaning making facial expressions is extremely difficult. Nicolene says despite her condition, Tahila copes remarkably well under the circumstances.

Nicolene is no stranger to facial abnormalities as well, having received reconstructive surgery on both ears. She also wears a hearing aid, as does Tahila’s 9-year-old sister.

“We’ve had to educate Tahila on her condition as well as talk her through the various surgeries. She told me she really liked her pixie ears and did not want to get rid of them!”

She says Tahila is at an amazing small school where she, as the mom, does daily check-ups to ensure there’s no bullying or teasing from other children.

Tahila’s condition has put an enormous amount of pressure on the family, especially because Nicolene is a single parent.,  She says however, they have a very good support network of friends who have been by their side through this challenging journey.

Dr Marshall Murdoch will perform the procedure which is estimated to take around six hours.

Airports Company South Africa has supported the Smile Week for in Port Elizabeth for several years. Based on the success of the previous Smile Weeks it has assisted, the company has now extended its financial assistance from one Smile Week in the Eastern Cape to Smile Weeks in Bloemfontein, Kimberley and George.

Says Refentse Shinners, Group Executive: Corporate Affairs at Airports Company South Africa: “We have been delighted this year to be able to to extend our partnership with the Smile Foundation to more centres. It is particularly important to us that we are able to support Smile Weeks outside of the three major metropolitan areas where access to the highest quality of specialist skills can be a challenge.

“We are excited about helping to make a positive difference in the lives of more children who have had to endure the most heart-breaking psychological and physiological challenges.

“It is particularly moving to be able to play a role when people’s lives are changed for the better so fundamentally. We will be forever grateful to the surgeons and the medical teams for their continuing dedication and commitment to this effort.

“Most importantly, we also want to wish all of the patients the very best in life as they open this new chapter,” said Shinners.

“On behalf of the George Regional Hospital, we are delighted to be involved once again with Smile Foundation. Together with Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital surgeons we are beyond happy to be assisting more children in the George Region.” says Dr North of George Regional Hospital 

Now in its 19th year, Smile Week has helped change the lives of over 3 500 children since its inception. Chief Patron, the late honourable Nelson Mandela passionately supported Smile Foundation with the aim of reaching as many children in need as possible in South Africa.

About the Smile Foundation

We’re About Putting Smiles on the Faces of Children in South Africa!

Smile Foundation is a South African NGO that assists children with any type of facial or other conditions, to receive reconstructive surgery within South Africa.

We help children who suffer from treatable facial anomalies such as cleft lip and palate, all burns, Moebius syndrome (facial paralysis) and other conditions. We are currently based in 11 Academic Hospitals around South Africa. We are investing in the medical teams we work with, through an Academic Skills programme, and we assist the hospitals by purchasing equipment for use by the Departments of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Our Chief Patron, the late honourable Nelson Mandela’s wish is for us to assist as many children around South Africa as possible to alleviate the stigma attached to living with a facial condition.

This #GivingTuesday you can make a donation by visiting

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