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Patient Story Ethiopia

Overcoming incredible barriers, Sudanese refugee receives surgery in Ethiopia

Patient Story Ethiopia

Overcoming incredible barriers, Sudanese refugee receives surgery in Ethiopia

Nyatuak, a 10-year-old girl originally from South Sudan, traveled 800 km, two days in a bus, to get to the Operation Smile medical mission site in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Nyatuak was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate and came to the mission in the hope of receiving care from our medical team. Joining her was her sister Nyamach. Nyatuak and Nyamach left South Sudan in December 2013, because of the civil war that had just begun in the country. They had no choice but to make their way out of the country as quickly as possible in search of safety.

“We believe our mom may still be in South Sudan, but we have not been able to contact her,” Nyatuak said. “It is really hard for us, because a few months before we left South Sudan, our dad died in the war.”

The sisters now live in a refugee camp near the border of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Nyamach now cares for Nyatuak.

“Because of the little food rations that we receive, we are collecting firewood to try to get a little more money. And to get shoes for my children,” said Nyatuak. “We are also selling water at the local market where we get 5-10 Ethiopian Birr (or .25 cents USD) per day selling water.”

Joined by six other people from their refugee camp, the sisters arrived at Operation Smile on the first day of screening.

“When Nyatuak arrived at the mission site, she had these terrible deep, infected cuts on her legs. Almost immediately our doctors admitted her to the hospital and she went on IV antibiotics to start the healing process,” said program coordinator Molly Milroy. “I was under the impression that she was not going to be able to receive surgery because of the severity of the cuts, but on the third day of our surgery week, she was doing exponentially better and our pediatric intensivist encouraged the team to put her on the surgery schedule. The whole team was thrilled.”

On Thursday, Nyatuak went into the operating room and a few hours later, she came out looking completely different.

The biggest change was the sparkle in her eye.

“On the first day that she arrived, she seemed so defeated,” said Milroy. “After surgery, you could sense that she was so proud of what she now looked like. She had this sense of confidence and pride that was contagious.”

Nyatuak and Nyamach do not have an easy life, but it is encouraging to know that Operation Smile provided food, lodging and transportation for them, as well as give Nyatuak a new smile.


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.