In March 2016, World of Children Founders Harry and Kay Leibowitz and World of Children supporters are visiting three World of Children Honorees to observe their work first-hand and see how your donations have made a difference in the lives of children. World of Children Celebrity Ambassador Stephanie March joined them for the first two legs of their journey.
The Need: Every year, one in 700 children globally is born with a cleft lip or palate. In addition to these more prevalent conditions, there are many rarer but incredibly serious congenital malformations, including more severe facial clefts, that affect children’s ability to develop properly and lead healthy lives.
Facial clefts, including cleft lip and palate, leave an opening or gap in a child’s face during development and may affect bone, soft tissue, or skin. Depending on the type and severity, a cleft can create serious health issues if not corrected. Babies can have difficulty with feeding, which in some parts of the world can lead to malnutrition, or even starvation. Ear infections can occur — and recurring ear infections can lead to hearing loss. Dental development can be affected. Speech and language development can also be impaired. As they grow older, children may also suffer from bullying and social isolation (info from Operation Smile).
Corrective surgery for cleft lip or cleft palate is widely practiced, safe, and can be done in as little time as 45 minutes. Other types of clefts may require more complex or multiple surgeries. In many parts of the world, families living in poverty cannot afford even the simplest surgeries or may not even know where their child can receive the treatment they need. This leaves many children to suffer through life with a treatable condition.
The Solution: Founded by Dr. Ricardo Bennun, World of Children 2007 Health Honoree and 2015 Alumni Honoree, Asociación Piel provides reconstructive surgery to children in Argentina suffering from congenital malformations, tumors, and other facial deformities. Dr. Bennun’s work focuses not only on diagnosis and treatment but also on rehabilitation and social reintegration of his patients.
Before starting Asociación Piel, Dr. Bennun was a successful plastic surgeon. When he realized how many children were not receiving the care they needed, simply because of their families’ poverty, he decided to dedicate his life to providing these treatments free of charge. Since 1995, thousands of patients suffering congenital malformations, tumors and other facial deformities have been treated, rehabilitated and socially reintegrated free of charge.
One Child: Santiago arrived at Asociación Piel when he was only 4 months old. He was born in a city located over 700 miles from the organization’s headquarters in Buenos Aires. Santiagos’s mother and grandfather came to Dr. Bennun’s organization desperately seeking help. Santiago was born with Facio Genito Popliteal Syndrome (also known as Popliteal pterygium syndrome), a rare congenital condition that can affect a child’s face, limbs, and genitalia. Santiago was born with a bilateral facial cleft, cleft palate, webbing behind his knees, and an inguinal hernia – all due to the syndrome.
The doctors at Asociación Piel have started presurgical treatment for Santiago’s cleft palate and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon removed the webbing from his legs last month. This will allow Santiago to fully extend his legs and, eventually, to walk. Santiago is undergoing rehabilitation surgery and will soon have his next reconstructive procedure. The staff at Asociación Piel describe him as a happy baby and have every hope he’ll be able to lead a happy, healthy life.
Tomorrow: Come back to read the stories of more children Dr. Bennun has helped!