Former board member Tim Smith took notice of the quiet woman in her 40s
because of the surgical mask she was wearing. But in China, where he was
assisting ReSurge International’s (formerly Interplast) first surgical team trip
to the city of Qiqihaer, seeing people wearing surgical masks is common; it is
an act of courtesy to wear a mask in public if you have a cold. Still, Tim found
the trip translator and approached the woman.
What he learned moved him to tears. In answer to his query about her mask,
Shu Zhi told him that she wears a mask as a matter of course—to stop the
impolite stares and derision from passersby who know no better. Shu Zhi had
a pronounced cleft lip—and she’d lived with the stigma, and the mask, for all
of her 42 years.
“I told her that my son was born looking the same way she did. I told her not
to worry — in a week, she would not have to wear that mask any more. Her
eyes filled with tears,” he said. And so did his.
More than 12 years ago, Tim and his wife learned from an ultrasound that
their son would be born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Their early fears were
eased somewhat by the knowledge they soon gained. When young TJ was
born, a cleft lip fractured his smile; the cleft palate made feeding difficult.
But TJ was lucky: he was born in a country where even the poorest babies
receive lip and palate repairs within the first few months of life. Many of the
poor in the Global South do not have the luxury of the simple hour-long
surgery that can help them avoid a lifetime of disability, shame and ostracism.
Tim, his wife, Keri, and TJ only had to live with the stares for a few months.
Tim remembers it well: “On May 15, TJ was born, and we started our journey
down a new path. Over the next 5 months, we learned what it was like to get
stared at … but we lived with those stares for only 5 months. Once TJ had his
hour-long cleft lip surgery, the stares stopped.”
For more than 40 years, ReSurge has been working to repair the smiles of
children less fortunate than TJ. As Tim said, “At its core, this is what ReSurge
does. ReSurge provides free surgery that transforms bodies and forever puts
people on a new path.”
To Tim, the reason TJ was born with a cleft lip and palate is all too clear:
“Had TJ not been born with a cleft, I would not have found ReSurge. Now,
I’m actively involved with an organization that puts thousands of people a
year on a brand new, better path,” he said.
A few months ago, in the ancient city of Qiqihaer, China, Tim connected with
just one of the thousands whose lives ReSurge transforms each year. And
Shu Zhi’s shiny new smile helped make his world a little brighter.