Something Iddrisah never anticipated after living his entire life with an untreated cleft lip was finding love.
Experiencing years of bullying, Iddrisah became accustomed to the relentless mistreatment from his own family and community. But while he doesn’t precisely remember what his bullies said to him growing up, Iddrisah still recalls the exact moment he first laid eyes on the woman who would eventually become his wife.
He was at work one day when he glanced up and saw her walking by. He was immediately drawn to her, but in the back of his mind, he never believed that she would be interested in being with a man who had a cleft lip.
Abuse and isolation were all Iddrisah had ever known.
For days afterward, he repeatedly saw her walking down that same road. Iddrisah still believed she wouldn’t be able to look past his cleft condition, but he felt compelled to take a chance. One day, he gathered up the courage to introduce himself.
He learned that her name was Asani.
Their conversations became more frequent, and Iddrisah described them as a highlight of his day. After several months, Iddrisah told Asani that he loved her. Despite everything they had shared together and the love he felt for her, he still feared that no one would ever love him in return.
Iddrisah was wrong.
Asani looked at Iddrisah and told him that she loved him, too, and said she would be happy to marry him. It was the love and respect he’d always hoped to receive. His marriage to Asani and raising their three children together brought immense joy to Iddrisah’s life.
But he never stopped dreaming of surgery to repair his cleft condition. Suddenly, many years later, the trajectory of Iddrisah’s life shifted when his friend handed him a poster advertising Operation Smile Ghana.
Iddrisah traveled to a surgical program in Cape Coast holding on to the hope of finally receiving care for his condition that had caused decades of emotional pain.
Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming demand for cleft care in Ghana, Iddrisah was not selected for surgery at that time. In the past, Operation Smile volunteer teams have witnessed more than 300 patients arrive to a program hoping to undergo care for their cleft condition. There are simply not enough resources, time or medical volunteers to care for every patient.
Iddrisah blamed himself for not being selected.
Someone from his community informed him that Operation Smile only performs surgery on children. Upon hearing that, Iddrisah believed that the reason he couldn’t receive care during his first attempt was due to his age.
This is not true.
Operation Smile strives to treat as many patients as possible, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status or religious beliefs. Iddrisah did not give up hope, and he continued to call as often as he could to hear if there was news of another opportunity. Within that same year, Iddrisah learned of an Operation Smile program happening in Ho.
To guarantee he didn’t miss the bus that would take him and other potential patients to the program, Iddrisah arrived hours before they were expected to depart on the 12-hour journey.
Pediatricians, anesthesiologists, nurses and other medical volunteers performed his comprehensive health evaluation and deemed him healthy enough for surgery. Having already been denied surgery once, Iddrisah said his heart was beating very fast as he waited to hear the surgical schedule. Then, his name was called.
“At long last, my battle is over,” Iddrisah said.
Iddrisah returned home feeling happy and eager to show his friends and family his new smile.
Asani ran to meet him, hugged him and said, “My husband is looking very handsome. This is a very happy day.”
Following his arrival home, Iddrisah and Asani held a large celebration and invited family and friends for a meal. When Iddrisah reunited with his friend who had first told him about Operation Smile Ghana, he hugged and thanked him, eager to share about his Operation Smile experience.
His friend said, “Did I not tell you that they would be able to help you? Now look at you! You are so handsome.”
After living 66 years with an untreated cleft condition, Iddrisah now has the smile that he wanted and deserved all along.
“I always thought I would go to my grave with a cleft lip,” he said. “I give thanks to Operation Smile for changing my life, for changing me. I am now happy.”
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Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep families safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence.