“Now I Am Normal”

November 22, 2013 • South Sudan
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Cleft lip surgery transformed Betty's appearance, and her life.

Cleft lip repair surgery gives a young South Sudanese teenager a fresh start at life

By Josh Anderson, Samaritan’s Purse staff writer

Two years ago Isaac Taban, a medical student in South Sudan, was listening to the radio when he heard about the cleft lip repair surgeries Samaritan’s Purse was performing in the capital city of Juba.

“I knew a young girl in the town where I used to live who would benefit greatly from such an operation,” Isaac said.

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Her name was Betty, a 13-year-old who suffered from a bilateral cleft lip and the resulting ridicule and hatred of her community.

They considered her a freak, an abomination. Betty was spit on, slapped around, and tormented relentlessly all because her physical abnormality was falsely believed to be a sign that she was possessed by evil spirits.

Isaac used his own money to bring Betty hundreds of miles by bus to Juba Teaching Hospital. But by the time she arrived, our medical team had finished all the cases they could possibly squeeze into an already packed schedule—Betty’s surgery would have to wait for another six months.

“We assured her that we would do her surgery the following May when we returned,” said Karen Daniels, a registered nurse for Samaritan’s Purse who helps coordinate the annual cleft lip repair surgery program in South Sudan.

Betty was heartbroken, but she was willing to wait. All Karen and our team could do was pray for this young girl in hopes that God would make it possible for them to finally repair her cleft lip.

As it turned out, Betty would have to wait longer than anyone expected.

“Little did we know that violence and civil unrest within the country would force us to postpone the program three weeks before the surgeries were scheduled to start,” Karen said.

Betty was devastated yet again. Twice in less than one year Betty had been denied the life-changing surgery she so desperately needed. But she was willing to remain patient, believing that God would work things out in His own time.

Betty’s time finally arrived in October 2012, when Dr. Thomas Boeve repaired her misshapen smile. A total of 78 men, women, and children had their cleft lips repaired that year. Another 90 patients of all ages benefitted from the program this year.

Her operation only lasted about one hour, but the physical transformation and her faith in God makes it easy to gauge Betty’s future. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV).

“She lives in a very rural area and when Isaac returned her home her family couldn’t believe it was the same girl,” Karen said. “An uncle from Khartoum even flew down this past year to see the transformation in her for himself.”

Today, Betty is a thriving young teenager who loves God. She’s able to attend school for the first time, and as a student she enjoys social studies, singing, and hanging out with her friends, of which she has many. To say this surgery has changed the course of her life forever is an understatement.

Betty is shy and soft-spoken, most likely the lingering effects of years of stifling abuse. But you can hear a quiet confidence in her powerful words: “I am so grateful to Samaritan’s Purse, to the doctors who fixed me,” Betty said. “Now I am normal.”