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Tannah’s Gift: creating smiles

Five-year-old and her family raise money for cleft lip and palate sufferers

Tuesday, January 28 2014

Like any parent, Tannah Bloomfield’s mother, Judy, was bursting with pride when she heard her five-year-old daughter deliver the line she had so diligently rehearsed, at her preschool graduation ceremony in Senderwood. When Tannah enthusiastically said, “We are leaving for bigger and better things but we will always have great memories,” only a few audience members understood just what a feat it was for her to speak with such clarity and confidence.

Two weeks ago Judy was once again overcome with emotion when her little girl walked through the gates of St Andrew’s School for Girls, waving excitedly at her mother as she embarked on her first day of primary school.

While these two events are standard milestones for most children, they were especially remarkable for Tannah. This is because she had been born with a cleft lip and palate, a medical condition known for causing speech and eating difficulties and impeding physical and social development if not treated early. One in 12 children around the world is born with this condition, although in some regions like Asia it affects as many as one in seven children.

Tannah was, however, one of the lucky ones, as her parents were on medical aid and so were able to pay for a series of operations to correct the condition. Tannah’s first operation was done when she was just three months old. Her doctor was Professor Laurence Chait, whose multi-disciplinary practice at Netcare Park Lane Hospital has treated hundreds of cleft lip and palate patients, mainly children, since its establishment in 2002.

“If left untreated, a cleft lip and palate is a severe deformity that could impede normal functioning, especially when it comes to speech. Many of the sufferers’ families do not have the means to pay for these operations, so these individuals are often ostracised and unable to fulfil their full potential due to a lack of understanding about their condition,” indicates Professor Chait.

Of the hundreds of operations that Professor Chait and his team have performed in the past 11 years, 350 have been on a pro-bono basis, thanks to the Netcare Foundation and the medical staff and the hospital donating their time, skills and resources to giving these children a chance at a normal life. The treatment for cleft lip and palate requires multi-disciplinary expertise, including that of an ear, nose and throat specialist; a speech therapist; an orthodontist and a social worker.

Professor Chait’s programme is, however, still in need of additional funding, and it was this fact that prompted Tannah‘s parents to start Tannah’s Gift, a charity which aims to raise money for those children who are in need of treatment for cleft lip and palate.

“Our first event was a golf day held in November last year, which raised R65 000 for Professor Chait’s pro-bono programme. The response was phenomenal. The companies and individuals who sponsored the holes really made an effort to make it a fun day for everyone, and it was all in aid of a good cause,” explains Judy.

Wanting to contribute, five-year-old Tannah was determined to have a lemonade stand at the golf day, so she could help raise money to “fix the lips” of children like her. Offering cold glasses of lemonade as welcome drinks to participants and spectators, the little girl managed to raise R1 200 towards helping young cleft lip and palate sufferers so that they too could do things that we all take for granted – like being part of a preschool graduation ceremony or going to a mainstream school. “It was the best day of my life,” enthuses Tannah, an aspiring artist who loves her ballet classes.

The Bloomfields have decided that the golf day will be an annual event. “Over the next few years, we aim to make Tannah’s Gift an established charity and devote most of our time to assisting children like Tannah. Professor Chait and his team at Netcare Park Lane Hospital have done so much for us, so this is our way of giving back. Professor Chait gave the gift of a smile to Tannah, and we would like to ensure that more children are bestowed with the opportunity to lead a normal life,” says Judy.

The money raised at the golf day will go towards transport costs to and from the hospital for parents of cleft lip and palate sufferers from disadvantaged backgrounds. A significant amount will also be used to purchase Mead Johnson bottles, which are specially modified feeding bottles for babies suffering from cleft lip and palate. These babies struggle to drink from standard bottles, and not having these modified bottles can severely impede their development.

“I would like to encourage parents of children who have been born with a cleft lip and palate to contact our practice for treatment, regardless of whether or not they have the funds to pay for the operations. These children can indeed have normal lives, as Tannah has shown, and need not suffer in silence,” says Professor Chait.

For more information on the cleft lip and palate programme at Netcare Park Lane Hospital, contact Professor Chait’s practice on 011 484 3703. If you would like to get involved in Tannah’s Gift, contact Judy Bloomfield on tannahsgift@hondastoneridge.co.za.

Ends
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Park Lane Hospital
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Sarah Beswick
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: martina@mnapr.co.za, graeme@mnapr.co.za or sarah@mnapr.co.za

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