I count two Belizean brothers, Leron and Roynell, as two of the most overtly happy human beings I’ve ever met. Happiness, sheer joy and exuberation exudes from them. I am always a notch happier just seeing them. When one makes a joke, the other applauds his mirth with the most impossibly happy-looking smiles. They literally ring themselves with their arms, as if they are hugging their happy selves, their joy barely contained.
Both boys were born with bilateral cleft lip and palate deformities of severe varieties. Closing the cleft is just one step of surgery. Additional, more difficult procedures are required to normalize their appearance, speech, and swallow. So, after already enduring multiple surgeries since my WPP team and I first met them ten years ago, you would think the prospect of another surgery would be unwelcome. But not for these two happy boys—actually, they came in asking for more!
“Dr. Burke, we’ve come here to have more surgery. I want you to make my brother more handsome!” This was followed by peals of lap-slapping laughter. Their proud mother looked on with sheer delight.
Once evaluated, we informed the elder brother he did not need any surgery this year. He looked great, spoke well, swallowed well and breathed normally. “Really, are you sure? I really want a surgery if you can do something for me,” exclaimed Leron.
Leron rests while waiting for his brother Roynell to come out of surgery.
While Roynell was initially gung-ho about an additional surgery, the reality not surprisingly created serious anxiety. However, he soon succumbed to deep and repeated inhalations of anesthetic gas (right), allowing us to fine-tune the speech apparatus of his palate. He awoke like the vulnerable child he is, but wouldn’t talk to us. He was still upset for having gone through a surgery not matched by his brother needing another procedure.
To my joy, I got a phone call the next day. It was my little man, my little happy soldier. He thanked me for doing his surgery. His mother told me she had asked him to apologize for being a difficult patient, to which he told her this, “Mommy, I want to say thank you, not apologize.” To face the terror of surgery, to handle it and move on from it, reflects such amazing courage.