Baby’s Smile Surgery

Phnom Penh Post 28-Nov-2014

A newborn baby rests wrapped in blankets after she was buried alive in Svay Rieng province in May.

A baby who survived being buried alive earlier this year will undergo surgery on Saturday to quickly repair the cleft lip that caused her father to initially abandon her.

Within hours of her first breath, Kong Put Samnang was taken by her father from Svay Rieng Provincial Hospital and left to die in a pile of dirt.

If not for the curiosity of boys playing nearby where she had been buried, the now 7-month-old Put Samnang may never have survived the ordeal.

Today, the baby, nicknamed “Lucky Wednesday”, will travel with her parents to Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital where she will undergo a corrective surgery this weekend along with 20 other children with cleft lips.

“It only takes about 45 minutes,” said Dr Mok Theavy, medical director at Operation Smile, which provides the free surgery.

“It’s easy to fix, and the results are very good, she will be able to eat well, and the scar will be mostly invisible.”

When she is 1 year old, Put Samnang will also be provided surgery for her cleft palate.

“I never thought that her lip could be changed,” said Heng Dany, the baby’s mother.

The father was released from prison and charges against him dropped when consultations with doctors revealed to him that his newborn daughter could have the defect surgically corrected.

“He loves my daughter so much now,” Heng Dany said.

Even though cleft lips and palates are easily corrected and affect as many as one in 500 Cambodian newborns, the birth defect is heavily stigmatised and little understood.

Lucky Wednesday is not the only baby to have suffered abandonment due to the birth defect. Earlier this week, another newborn with a cleft lip was left by her parents outside a garment factory in Phnom Penh, according to Operation Smile. Workers found the days-old infant covered in ants and starving and took her to the hospital.

“We will provide her meals and take care of her until we can do the surgery to fix her lip,” said Theavy.

“Then we will send her to an orphanage if her parents don’t come for her.”