April 25th, 2009
09:41 AM ET

Kissing a cleft lip goodbye- Adnan's Journey, Part I



By Nicole Lapin

CNN.com Live anchor


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/24/art.blog.adnan-saleh.jpg caption="Mohammed Saleh brought his son, Adnan, to Operation Smile. "I just want my son to have the chance,"he said."]In the middle of a crowded hospital hallway in Alexandria, Egypt, Adnan's  blue eyes pop.  He is sitting on the lap of his father, Mohammed Saleh.  Saleh looks at me and then at his pregnant wife next to him.  "I hope the new one doesn't have this condition," he says in his broken English.


 "This condition" refers to his son's cleft lip.   The Salehs are one of the more than 200 families who showed up at Shark Al Madina Hospital to try to receive free treatment for their child's cleft lip and/or palate.  It is Operation Smile's first mission in this city and the turnout is higher than expected.  


“I don’t know why he has it,” Saleh mutters as he kisses his 7-month-old son’s forehead.  I wish I had an answer for him.  I try telling him in my broken Arabic that the organization says it’s a combination of genetic, environmental and nutritional factors.  It means little to a father just trying to fix whatever caused his son’s deformity.


The global rate of cleft lip and/or palate is about 1 in every 750 births.  Unlike in the United States, the corrective surgery is costly and hard to come by in countries like Egypt.  I am here with an Operation Smile volunteer group- a mix of accomplished plastic surgeons, nurses and pediatricians from all over the world- aiming to change that for kids like Adnan. 


Running on adrenaline and Turkish coffee, the volunteers transformed one corner of the hospital into an eight-step screening process on the first day of the mission.  Benches turned into registration centers.  Markers and recycled paper became locator signs: “Vitals,” “Dental,” “Anesthesiologist.”  A bed sheet, beach ball and coloring book looked like an indoor playground in no time.


Women dressed in full hijab wait hours for their children to have a chance at getting the surgery.  An older woman walks up to me so fast she nearly stumbles over her long skirt.  “My grandson, my grandson, look, look,” she yells, holding the advertisement that appeared in a local paper in one hand and a wallet full of his pictures in the other.


The team will do approximately 175 surgeries during this mission.  Not everyone from two days of screening receives an operation.  The organization prioritizes the kids getting screened based on their chances for a successful recovery. 


The Salehs are Number 27 in this process.  I start following them when they got their number at 7 a.m.  They finish around noon and before they leave I ask Adnan’s father what he wants his son to be when he grows up.   Saleh answers quickly, “Whatever will make him happy.”  I say, “So, a doctor, lawyer, policeman…?”  He nods, “I just want my son to have the chance.”


A child whose cleft lip goes untreated will carry a social stigma in much of the world.  Some cultures believe it is “a curse” or “God’s will.”  A child  whose cleft palate, an actual split on the roof of his or her mouth, goes untreated can have difficulty eating and speaking.  In some pockets of the globe where malnutrition is prevalent, some of those youngsters won’t survive.   


I hear the last prayer call of the day echo outside the seaside hospital – that means it is 8 in the evening.  I just found out that Adnan has been accepted to surgery.  It’s scheduled for Saturday morning.  I can’t wait to see what he looks like when he smiles with more than just his eyes. 


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Filed under: Children's Health • Global Health • Parenting • Pregnancy

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Astrea

    It is awesome when skilled medical staff takes on a project like Operation Smile. It sure makes a huge difference in many people's lives. It also sounds hopeful when humans help each other instead of killing each other in wars.

    April 26, 2009 at 05:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. patricia

    Operation Smile is a wonderful program. The generosity of these doctors and nurses is incredible. I can't wait to see how Adnan's life is improved by this operation.

    April 26, 2009 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Osama

    Great mission, thanks to Operation Smile for it's dedication and it's great work. Also, big thanks to CNN live anchor Nicole Lapin for covering and informing all of us.

    April 27, 2009 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Lauren Perreault

    This is a wonderful way to show the Arab world that many Americans are generous and helpful and not all just want to wage war on the Muslim world. Each family helped is like a ripple in the water - the ripples will reach far and spread the message that many of us want to spread peace.
    Many kudos to the terrific, wonderful people who volunteer for Operation Smile. Everyone reading this post should donate to them!

    April 27, 2009 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. yuny

    I love to read stories like this one... it's a good thing to help other people and bring smiles to little ones is a joy... God will bless them!

    April 28, 2009 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tom Flood

    What was the total cost per patient? Should include fund raising, airfare, hotel, supplies. administrative costs etc. ? seems to be quite high.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Betsy Freeman

    My father, an orthodontist was very involved with clef palates back in the 60's. Because of his passion, I have donated to Operation Sunshine many times. What a wonderful gift they give to so many.

    I would love to see follow-up pictures. It always warms my heart.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. David

    Thanks for sharing this tremendous information. I was happy to see the content,well done.

    May 13, 2009 at 03:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Debra Rivera

    My grandmother had a cleft lip and palate and I had no idea that she was deformed. I spent the first 10 years of my life with her and I can remember kids and adults looking at her when we would go into the grocery store. I know she must have hated the negative response she got. She never had the opportunity to correct her birth defect but she did not mention it or complain about it either. As an adult I had an artist draw her beautiful face and it hangs in my house to this day.

    June 24, 2009 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Maggie

    What a heartwarming story! I have so much admiration for these medical people who generously donate their time and expertise to such a worthwhile cause. I had no idea of such a worthwhile cause. Thanks for reporting on this story!

    June 24, 2009 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Just someone

    It's wonderful that these doctors are helping all these children around the world but what about the children in their own backyard (The good old USA) ???????

    June 24, 2009 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Robynware

    I was born with a cleft lip and palate and was lucky enough to have the initial repair done when I was a baby, with followup surguries as I grew up. I think Operation Smile does a tremendous service to people who are not as fortunate as I was – I love seeing the before and after pictures – they show the amazing gifts this program gives to so many people. BTW, Adan is an adorable child and the repair was amazing!

    June 24, 2009 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Katie

    Every child regardless of where they are born deserves a chance in life. My son was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate and in the months leading upto his lip surgery we were always looked at. I still remember how angry it made me to hear people talking about him. That being said I cannot imagine how much worse it would have been had we lived in a place where my son would be thought to be cursed.

    June 25, 2009 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Julie

    Operation Smile is indeed a wonderful organization and kudos to those that are involved. Helping those families is truly a noble endeavor.

    However, cleft lip and palate repair here in the United States is not a "cake walk" as the author insinuates. As a parent to child with a cleft lip and palate, there is NO kissing a cleft lip and palate goodbye. My son will have his cleft till the day he dies and it will affect him, his family and his friends each and every day, positively and negatively. It is poor research and reporting to point blank claim genes, poor nutrition and environmental factors as the cause clefting. How dare you tell a family that it's their fault their child has a cleft? Those are possible causes but even the CDC reports that the cause of clefting is many times unknown.

    I wish Operation Smile continued success in all that they do. It truly is great work. But I ask readers to remember and maybe more importantly, recognize, the struggles that American families endure.

    June 25, 2009 at 07:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Gordon Chee

    This is a wonderful testament to the generosity of organizations such as this. I would like to see dentists join a group like this to help with cleft lip and palate as these conditions greatly hamper proper dental function. Many new advances in prosthetics, bone grafting, and dental implants can help to correct these conditions and help these people lead normal lives. Some of these procedures can be found here: http://www.aestheticdentalstudio.ca

    July 27, 2009 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Mylee Stuckey

    Well, i kow how it feels to have a cleft lip. I am 14 and i have been made fun of since i can remember. But thank God he and many more kids have the oppertunities to get it fixed. I was 6 weeks when i first had mine. Now im having mine in about 20 days. And its scary but its worth it.I used to cry and wonder why im not regular, but i now understand that no one is perfect and im juast different. Life is to short to sit and sulk about a cleft lip. People with cleft lips could have worse defects so be happy that you dont. Peace, Love and God Mylee Stuckey.

    May 10, 2010 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. queenmumquipsandquotes

    I saw a CNN report with Dr. Sanyah Gupta just yesterday and I decided to set up a fundraiser for kids with cleft lips and palates. I was born 70 years ago today and was blessed to have a family with the resources to get the surgery I needed. It was a long process back then and I had a final surgery at age 15 to improve my speech. Childhood was difficult but I didn't let that stop me. I finished college, married, have two children and 2 grandchildren– another any day, I went back to grad school at age 50 to become a counselor. Today I celebrate 70 years. So thankful for Operation Smile! #justsmile

    February 25, 2018 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Bipul sah

    Thanks for the information.This is such a nice post.Please keep sharing.

    April 24, 2019 at 06:20 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.