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Patient Story Madagascar

After Decades Without Surgery, Two Lives Changed in an Instant

Arsene, 28 years old, before surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

Living with a cleft condition for the first 28 years of his life, Arsene was familiar with the pain of being rejected and ridiculed.

Growing up as a rice farmer in the highlands of Madagascar, Arsene was subject to a great deal of bullying and judgment simply because people didn’t understand why he looked different from them. Yet, Arsene never chose to retaliate. Instead, he chose to treat those around him with the dignity and respect always he wished others would have afforded him. 

Arsene was not alone in his pain, as his cousin Jeanpierre was also living with an untreated cleft condition. 

Despite being accepted by their families, Arsene and Jeanpierre still felt like outsiders in their community. They believed they would be subjected to endure that pain and mistreatment for the rest of their lives.

Jeanpierre and Arsene were prepared to leave behind the possibility of being truly happy. 

But everything changed after they met a man who devotes his life to spreading hope across Madagascar. 

Fidelis, patient advocate for Operation Smile Madagascar, pictured here in the center holding a baby, poses with some of the 42 patients and their family members who he helped bring to Operation Smile’s care during an April 2018 surgical program in Antsirabe.

Fidelis, a patient advocate for Operation Smile Madagascar, gave Arsene the hope he’d never before let himself believe was real.  

Through the life-changing surgery Operation Smile made possible for his son, Tsilavina, Fidelis made it his personal mission to help families affected by cleft conditions. Connecting them to Operation Smile, Fidelis builds their trust and personally escorts them to surgical programs across Madagascar so that their children can receive free and safe surgical care. 

When asked about his motivation to volunteer, Fidelis said, “I know that I have my own problems to take care of, but I have to leave them behind. It is the duty of people who are healthy to help people who are sick.” 

In some of the most remote areas of the world, many people like Arsene and Jeanpierre lack access to critically needed resources and timely surgical care. This often leads to people developing a fear of hospitals and a negative perception associated with seeking medical care. 

During his trip to Arsene’s village, Fidelis detailed the transformation his son experienced after receiving free cleft surgery from the local medical volunteer team.

After listening to Fidelis’ story, Arsene hoped that he, too, along with his cousin, would benefit from the free surgical care that Operation Smile provides. Five months later, Arsene and Jeanpierre, accompanied by Fidelis, began the 24-hour journey to Antsirabe. 

It was the first time in 28 years that that Arsene had ever left his village. 

Arsene, after surgery. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

Upon arrival to Antsirabe, Arsene was seen by doctors who gave him a comprehensive health evaluation to ensure he was a candidate for safe surgery. The medical volunteer team deemed him and Jeanpierre healthy and strong enough to undergo the procedure and placed them both on the surgical schedule. 

When Arsene had a chance to see his new smile, his first reaction was to say, “I will be a handsome man now.”

Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
Arsene never allowed his cleft lip to prevent him from living a life of happiness, and with the support from the local medical volunteers, he received the cleft care that he deserved.
Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
Alongside his cousin, 32-year-old Jeanpierre passed his health evaluation and received his long-awaited cleft lip surgery, gaining newfound confidence and joy that he never imagined was possible.
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1.
Arsene never allowed his cleft lip to prevent him from living a life of happiness, and with the support from the local medical volunteers, he received the cleft care that he deserved.
2.
Alongside his cousin, 32-year-old Jeanpierre passed his health evaluation and received his long-awaited cleft lip surgery, gaining newfound confidence and joy that he never imagined was possible.
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