Opeyemi: Families, Like Smiles, Come in Many Forms
His father abandoned the family when he was born with a cleft. His mother never stopped trying to make him smile
In Lagos, Nigeria, we caught up with Deborah, the mother of Smile Train patient Opeyemi, just after his life-changing cleft surgery. She wanted our supporters to hear her story so they know what their kindness has meant to her and her family.
My husband and I were thrilled when I realised I was pregnant with our third child. We could not afford an ultrasound scan, but for nine months, everything went as expected and I went into labour eager to meet our new baby.
Opeyemi’s cleft shocked me. I worried that we would never be able to afford to care for him because we had so little money, but of course I loved him with all my soul. He is my child. But my husband had the exact opposite reaction. He said the baby couldn’t be his because no one in his family looks like that, then sent me, Opeyemi, and our two other children packing. His family also called their new grandson a bastard and rejected us. That was three years ago, and I have not seen him since.
Thankfully, my family welcomed us in with open arms and they have helped me care for my children ever since. In truth, I don’t know how Opeyemi and I would have survived all this time without them.
The doctors told me nothing about how to care for his condition when he was born, so I was left to figure it out on my own. I am grateful that just his lip is cleft and not his palate, so he did not have the challenges eating and gaining weight that I have since learned many other children with clefts struggle with. However, he was still subject to stares and rumours any time we left the house, which was hard on us all. I was terrified for him to start school.
But here, again, we were lucky because just a few months before my Opeyemi turned three, a neighbour ran up to me with a big smile and a phone number jotted down on a piece of paper. She said she got it from an advert for an organisation that promised to sponsor the cleft surgery my son needed right here, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, completely free! It seemed too good to be true, but I decided I would never forgive myself if I didn’t call to learn more.
That is how we were introduced to Smile Train. From our first encounter, they treated us like family — or perhaps I should say, like family should — and I could not be more pleased with the care they have provided us from that day until now.
Of course, I was nervous when they took my baby back to the operating theatre. But when they brought him out less than an hour later, I was filled with joy and gratitude! The moment I saw his new smile, I just knew he was going to grow up to be successful and that everything would be okay for him.
I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to the team here at the hospital, to Smile Train, and to all the kind and generous people around the world who gave my son a future. May God reward you all and give you the motivation to continue with the good works you’ve started.
Our Impact in Nigeria
as of February 2022