Xi'an, China — For some people, four years is a short period of time. For a surgeon, four years is the amount of time spent in medical school. For Smile Train, four years is just shy of a third of our existence. However, for a child with a cleft, four years can change his fate. Four years moved Hua Tai'an and his family from sadness and helplessness to happiness and hope.
Hua Tai’an was born in July 2006 with both a cleft lip and a cleft palate in Xianyang City, China. Not long after his birth, Hua’s father began to seek treatment for his son. The family used all of what little savings they had to pay for Hua’s cleft lip surgery, which still left Hua’s nose misshapen. They had no money left to afford surgery to repair his cleft palate. Luckily, not long after, Hua’s father learned of free cleft surgeries being provided by Smile Train’s earliest partner hospital in his province, Stomatological Hospital of Xi'an Jiaotong University.
The hospital’s staff was struck by the appearance of the father and son when they arrived at the hospital — Hua was beautiful little child, while his father had long, shaggy hair down to his worn-out clothes. Despite making the journey with his son to the hospital, Hua’s father was still skeptical that surgery could be free in such a large hospital in a big city like Xi’an, especially because the first surgery had cost his family's life savings. The doctors told him that, “Smile Train pays for you, so that you can enjoy the free surgery.” He still had his reservations, but couldn't pass up the chance to repair Hua's palate.
On July 8, 2008, two-year-old Hua Tai’an underwent a successful surgery to repair his cleft palate.
As time passed after the surgery, the father found that his child was still unable to play with other children. Hua was unable to speak clearly because he had already developed improper speaking habits before his cleft palate surgery. Naturally, he was very concerned for his son. In 2010, our Smile Train partner invited Hua and his father to a speech language camp for cleft palate patients to help correct his speech.
At the speech camp, Hua and his father took part in the activities with the other patients and their families. Despite being with other cleft patients like him, Hua was too shy to look up or speak. His father said that the poor appearance of his son’s nose due to his original surgery at a hospital not aligned with Smile Train was to blame.The team at the hospital recommended a second surgery to revise the cleft lip repair and help with Hua’s speech. Hua’s father was even more worried about the possible costs than during his first visit to the hospital. The doctor’s explained to him that he need not worry because Smile Train would once more fund the treatment as well as transportation fees to and from the hospital.
After many months spent debating another surgery, Hua’s father permitted surgical treatment for his son. On February 10, 2012, Hua was operated on by the same surgeon who originally treated his cleft palate. The surgery was a great success and Hua was discharged from the hospital on schedule.
During one of Hua’s follow-up visits in November 2012, doctors thought that another child had entered their office due to his beautiful smile. Hua had made wonderful progress. He spoke confidently to all the staff and proudly shared his academic achievements.
Even Hua's father’s smile had noticeably grown. He said his son had been much more cheerful and outgoing, as if Hua was a different person. The difficulties of the past four years had disappeared. He proudly displayed all the materials associated with his son’s years of treatment. Doctors were inspired when they noticed report cards of the speech treatment camp that the father had cherished, but was so common to them. Hua’s father finally found that his son could be as outstanding as other children, if not more so.
The team at Stomatological Hospital of Xi'an Jiaotong University was grateful and happy as well. Throughout the past four years, the father had worn the same clothes every time he visited the hospital. Under such difficult economic conditions, the hospital staff was unsure how long the family’s persistence in treating their son could last.
It took the hospital staff some time to consider what was the key to Hua’s success. They recently wrote to Smile Train in conclusion that:
“Without the support of such a strong foundation — Smile Train — we couldn't have persisted on for four years with a single patient. Poor families couldn't have afforded the surgery, let alone follow up care. Without Smile Train, the team approach to cleft care wouldn't have such development or scale as today. Without Smile Train, how could we have seen the smiles of children with cleft lip and cleft palate?”
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