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Patient Story Morocco

Haitam’s Journey Toward Healing and Happiness

Two-year-old Haitam and his mother, Fatima, traveled 39 hours to reach a 2015 Operation Smile Morocco surgical program taking place in Dakhla. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

The youngest of seven children, Haitam was the only one of his siblings born with a cleft lip. 

Along his journey toward a brighter future, he became familiar with adversity.

Still processing the shock of seeing their baby’s smile for the first time, Sidi and Fatima were told that they couldn’t take Haitam back home yet. Fatima and her husband’s worry heightened when what was supposed to be a brief visit shifted into a two-week stay at their local hospital. This placed a large financial burden on the family.

Upon returning home, Sidi and Fatima’s feelings of relief were fleeting. 

Haitam suffered from respiratory issues, and with the severity of his cleft condition, breastfeeding became a major challenge. 

Again, Fatima and Sidi persevered. 

But as he grew, Haitam faced another unexpected obstacle. He struggled to speak and communicate clearly with his family and friends.

For people born with a cleft condition – specifically a cleft palate – their speech development can be severely affected. School often becomes difficult for children like Haitam. Many children face bullying and may struggle making friends or socializing with people outside their families. 

Two-year-old Haitam before receiving cleft lip surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Thankfully for Haitam, he had the unwavering support and love of his parents. His father knew firsthand the painful toll a cleft condition can have on a family. Sidi was also born with a cleft condition.

But Sidi’s mother, instead of supporting her son, shunned him. 

Sidi vowed to be a better father and love his children unconditionally. Seeing Haitam’s cleft lip for the first time, Sidi remembered the vow he made and has kept that promise every day. 

Despite his relief of knowing that a solution existed, Sidi feared that the family would never be able to afford the cost of surgery. As an olive farmer, Sidi makes less than $10 a day. Even the cost of transportation to the closest hospital went beyond the family’s financial means.

All hope seemed lost until the family discovered Operation Smile Morocco

When Haitam and Fatima connected with Operation Smile Morocco, they met other families and patients who were also hopeful of receiving free life-changing cleft surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Sidi and Fatima quickly registered their son for the upcoming surgical program. But their happiness wavered when a volunteer from the program pulled them aside.  

They listened as the doctor explained that Haitam’s low iron levels would make it unsafe to perform cleft lip surgery. Despite leaving without a new smile for their son, Fatima and Sidi did not leave empty-handed. 

Supplied with iron supplements by the volunteer medical team, Sidi and Fatima held on to their steadfast determination that when the next Operation Smile Morocco program arrived, Haitam would be ready. 

When the day came to try again, the family made the 39-hour journey toward Haitam’s brighter future. 

From left: A fellow mom Samira; her daughter, Siham; Haitam; and his mom, Fatima, wait for medical volunteers to take Siham and Haitam into the operating room for their surgeries. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

While medical volunteers performed Haitam’s comprehensive health evaluation, Fatima and Sidi anxiously waited, holding on to the hope that their son would be deemed healthy enough for his long-awaited surgery. 

When Fatima saw Haitam’s name listed on the surgical schedule, she was overcome with relief and began crying tears of joy that her son would finally receive the care that would change his life. 

During a surgery that can take as few as 45 minutes, Haitam’s life was changed forever. 

Fatima looks at Haitam’s smile with love as they wait at the patient shelter following his long-awaited cleft surgery during a 2015 Operation Smile Morocco surgical program in Dakhla. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Gazing at Haitam’s new smile for the first time after surgery, Fatima knew that every delay and every seemingly impossible barrier to care they’d encountered had been worth it.  

Operation Smile reconnected with Haitam and his family four years later to see how his life had transformed after receiving surgery to repair his cleft lip and cleft palate. He attends school, and his favorite activities include running and playing football. 

When Fatima was asked if she had a message to share with the volunteers who had helped make her son’s new smile possible, she said, “Thank you to everyone. We could not afford to pay for surgery, but thanks to Operation Smile, we got both surgeries.”

Four years after receiving cleft surgery, 7-year-old Haitam smiles widely at the camera at Operation Smile Morocco's care center in Casablanca. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

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.

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