Cake, care and love keys to Naledi’s recovery

Estelle Ellis

EIGHT candles on a chocolate cake, a birthday song and a hug from the doctor who gave her new ears is how little Naledi Alset celebrated her birthday yesterday.

Naledi, of Walmer township, was born without ears and with a cleft palate.

Her palate was corrected when she was a babyand last year, in a ground-breaking 4½-hour operation, surgeons constructed and attached two ears for her during Smile Week under the banner of the Smile Foundation.

Her ears were constructed from rib cartilage and skin grafts were carried out with skin from her leg in August.

Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex plastic surgery head Dr Chris van der Walt said yesterday that Naledi had another operation three months ago. He thinks it will take another two operations to get her new ears perfect.

"It is a delicate procedure and we have to wait for the ear to heal each time," Van der Walt said.

He says doctors can still not really figure out why but African and Asian skin is more prone to forming scars which can make their work more difficult.

Naledi's mom, Judith, said her little girl was very happy when she first saw her new ears. "She wanted to know when she can get earrings."

"She also asked if her new ears will grow as big as mine.

"Her brothers were very happy to see her new ears.

"I promised her that by next year we can get her earrings."

The family are waiting to hear from the Education Department about a school for Naledi.

After having a huge piece of chocolate cake, Naledi came to sit with Van der Walt and gave him a hug before going to play again.

"A video that was published with the story in The Herald at the time helped us a lot as we show it to patients when we tell them about the procedure," Van der Walt said.

He said that after the story was published more people who needed ears came to see him as well.

ESmile Foundation Eastern Cape coordinator Tanya Jackson said Naledi and Judith were part of a support group.

"We have psychologists and speech therapists to help, but mostly we get wonderful feedback from the mothers themselves. They say they always felt that they were fighting the fight alone and then find out there are others."