Roman Waited 19 Years for His New Life to Start

Patient Stories
Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We're helping front-line health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

While his story begins the same as many people born with cleft conditions, Roman was met with many hardships along his journey toward life-changing safe surgery.

The oldest of the five children in his family, Roman grew up never knowing that cleft surgery was possible. 

However, even if Roman had known a solution was available, his family had no way of affording the cost of surgery as subsistence farmers, who cultivate only enough food and livestock to meet their own needs. 

So, for 19 years, Roman lived with the burden of his unrepaired cleft lip. 

He endured torment throughout his life because of his cleft condition, often being called names like “sima,” a derogatory term for cleft lip.

Growing up, he told people in his community that God had given him his lip, but that didn’t stop the hurtful bullying he experienced. 

But everything changed for Roman when a local health worker came to his community and told him about an upcoming Operation Smile Madagascar medical mission in Antsirabe. 

In the months after learning about his chance to receive surgery, Roman courageously made the bus trip to Antsirabe: It was farther than he had ever traveled away from his home.

Patients arriving at Operation Smile Madagascar's 2016 medical mission to Antsirabe. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.
Patients arriving at Operation Smile Madagascar's 2016 medical mission to Antsirabe. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

Roman journeyed three and a half hours to reach our local team in Ifanadiana. They then transported him and other families the six hours to Antsirabe.

In some of the most remote areas of the world, many people like Roman lack access to critically needed resources and timely surgical care. 

Operation Smile and its global community of volunteers strive to help patients and families overcome those barriers by bringing safe surgeries and comprehensive health care to where it’s needed most.

Upon his arrival to where Operation Smile provides accommodations for patients and their families, Roman was very surprised to see so many others who looked like him.

After passing his comprehensive health evaluation, Roman was deemed healthy enough to receive safe surgery.

On the day of his surgery, Roman admitted that he was scared but excited for his brighter future and ready to see his new smile. 

And after receiving a surgery that lasted only around an hour, Roman’s life has permanently changed. 

Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

After Roman made the long journey home to his excited community and family, many were surprised that his lip was completely repaired.

Today, Roman lives a happier life and is less shy. 

With a new smile and a newfound confidence, Roman has experienced many aspects of life that he had never imagined, including getting a girlfriend. 

His life has changed in many ways in the short time since his surgery, and he is looking forward to living a life of dignity, without fear of being teased or laughed at by members of his community. 

While most of Operation Smile's patients are children, there are many like Roman who are unable to receive safe surgical care until later in life. 

Through nearly four decades of experience treating cleft, Operation Smile knows that cleft surgery offers optimism and hope – at any age.

“Thank you for taking care of me,” Roman expressed. 

Help us to continue keeping our promise to patients like Roman amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can help patients through these uncertain times and provide them with the care and surgery they deserve when it's safe to resume our work.

Roman, after surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
Roman, after surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.