cleftWe began our final day at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi. As we walked inside, we were greeted by children and adults of all ages who had come to see the talented Kumasi Cleft Palate Team for pre- and post-surgical consultation. The faces of tiny babies as young as two- months stared back at us from colorful cocoons on their mothers’ backs as we smiled and stroked their beautiful faces. Once in the clinic, we assessed the speech and language of children with repaired and non-repaired cleft lips and/or palates and provided recommendations. However, the highlight of the morning was the time we spent demonstrating safe feeding techniques to mothers of babies with non-repaired cleft palates.

While many of the mothers had figured out how to best feed their babies with cleft palates, some of the little ones were undernourished. An opening between the mouth and the nose makes it easy to swallow excess air. These babies also have difficulty creating enough suction to latch on to a nipple and lose nourishment through nasal regurgitation. We taught the mothers to hold their babies in an upright position, to burp them frequently and to keep them in an upright position for twenty to thirty minutes post feeding. The mothers caught on quickly to the feeding strategies, which were accompanied by beautifully drawn handouts illustrated by Tina. It was amazing to see the changes in both the mothers and the babies after a successful feeding and bonding session. One particularly tiny baby who began the session with a glazed-over look transformed into an alert little boy who gazed curiously at the faces around him. In addition to watching a mother learn how to successfully feed her child, it was incredible to witness the look of relief and thankfulness in the eyes of a mother after one compassionate smile or gentle touch of her child.

After a beautiful morning of therapy, we grabbed a quick local lunch before we returned to the hospital for a meeting with the world class Kumasi Cleft Palate Team. Dr. Peter Donkor, Head of the Cleft Palate Team and Dr. Solomon Obiri Yeboah, Specialist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, were gracious enough to share their experiences performing cleft lip and palate surgeries in Ghana. Dr. Solomon explained that he had become the sponsor of a child whose cleft lip he had repaired. Not only does Dr. Solomon provide financial support to the child, but also includes the boy and mother in celebrations and gatherings as part of the family. For Dr. Donkor and Dr. Solomon, performing a cleft lip and/or palate surgery is only the first step of a life-long investment into the long-term investment into the well-being of these children.

We concluded an eventful day with a final shopping spree at the Kumasi Cultural Center for last-minute elephant paintings, beaded jewelry and other goodies. After packing our bags for the 7-hour morning bus ride to Accra we had our final class where George Odoi re-counted the past few weeks with a near-perfect memory. The night ended with a cheerful round of charades!

Thanks to Jenna Schaeffer for the post.