After a one-year forced break due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our German volunteers Dr. Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach were finally able to treat cleft children in Rwanda again. Their mission took place from March 19th to 26th. They were joined by our surgeon Dr. Laurent Siborurema from Rwanda and anesthetist Dr. Emmanuel Munyarugero from Uganda, who have been working with Dr. Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach for many years now as indispensable members of the team. The host hospital for this joint German-African team is the Rwamagana Hospital in Rwamagana, just under two hours’ drive from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
When our team arrives at the hospital, they are eagerly awaited by the 26 patients and their families. During patient screening, a little girl sticks out among the crowd: Claudine has a rare horizontal cleft.
The cleft extends from the right corner of the mouth across the cheek almost to the ear. The operation for this type of cleft is complicated. Oliver and Gunther are therefore happy to have an extremely experienced anesthesiologist at their side in Dr. Emmanuel Munyarugero. They have known him for almost 20 years and know that they can rely on him and his skills.
But it is not only Claudine’s operation that is more complex and therefore more time-consuming than a normal cleft operation. In almost half of the children, complex corrective operations have to be carried out. Such interventions are necessary if the first operation was not carried out professionally. It is not uncommon for this to be the result of relief missions by inexperienced teams – “Safari surgery” in which the children are essentially used for training purposes. Bulging scars, raised lips and large fistulas in the palate are the unsightly and often debilitating consequences.
Ernest’s story is particularly touching. The boy presents himself to the doctors at patient admissions with a piece of paper in his hand. “My name is Manirakiza, Ernest. How are you now. I am fine. I have education, I have painful mouth,” was the message the boy was sent to our doctors with.
At first glance, his problem is not obvious. It is only when the boy tries to open his mouth that his painful story is revealed. As a result of a chemical burn – presumably caused by acid – Ernest can hardly open his mouth. He has difficulty speaking, eating and drinking, and he suffers from chronic pain. It’s easy to imagine how painful it must be for him to yawn!
Even though Ernest doesn’t have a cleft, everyone on the team knows right away that this kid needs their help. Oliver and Gunther manage to restore an almost normal mouth opening. They also reconstruct the lips. Ernest can hardly believe his luck. During the entire operation he is always close to the team. Saying goodbye to Ernest is difficult. But it is reassuring for everyone to know that a new, better phase of life is now beginning for the boy.
As a sign of recognition and gratitude, an official photo session takes place in front of the Rwamagana Hospital with clinic management and community representatives at the end of the successful mission: A very special moment and the result of many years of trusting cooperation.