South African Facial Cleft Deformity Clinic Celebrates 35th Birthday

Pretoria Moot Rekord recently reported on the 35th anniversary of the University of Pretoria’s Facial Cleft Deformity Clinic.

The clinic caters to babies and children with facial clefts, providing surgery and following treatment to as many as 80 patients in a month.

What is a Facial Cleft?

A cleft lip and palate is a deformity where the patient’s upper lip or hard palate (or both) fail to fuse. This forms an opening at the top of the mouth.

It can cause difficulty when eating, drinking, or speaking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that just under 4,500 babies are born with a cleft lip in the United States every year.

Some children with cleft lips also experience repeated ear infection, and dental problems often accompany the condition.

A Proud History

The University of Pretoria’s Facial Cleft Deformity Clinic treated its first patients back in 1983. Since then, it has treated over 4,500 patients. Dr. Sharan Naidoo, the head of the clinic, said seeing happy children and their families after a full recovery was one of his greatest rewards.

The clinic operates on children primarily because the condition is better to treat early rather than late. That’s because the operation isn’t at all a simple one – some patients will go through ten surgeries or more in their lives.

In addition to their treat-early-and-aggressively tactics, the clinic demonstrates a special understanding of the aspects of treatment that take place outside the operating room.

When first accepting a patient with a cleft lip, the clinic’s first step is determining the medical origin of the cleft. A number of genetic or environmental factors can cause cleft lips and palates, and it’s important to determine if a patient’s cleft is genetic in origin, or a symptom of Pierre Robin Sequence, for example. That’s because a patient’s overall physiology has to be taken into consideration before operating – otherwise, surgery can do more harm than good.

Once a patient’s surgeries and preliminary treatments are over, the clinic continues to check in with them on a yearly basis to make sure everything is on the up and up.

The clinic’s oldest patient is 36, and they’re still checking in on him.

13-year-old clinic patient Zaskia Botha was bullied at school, and hard a hard time eating and drinking because of her cleft lip. Before her treatment, the young woman had to be fed through a tube in her nose. She’s thankful for what the clinic has done for her, and appreciates the new perspective on life their efforts have afforded her.


Cleft lip and cleft palate are relatively common birth defects. Did you or someone you know have a facial cleft that was operated on? What was your experience like? Share your story with Patient Worthy’s Community!

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