Tuesday, May 6, 2008


WHEN health and welfare volunteers in Levuka visited four-year-old Seini Bolatagici at her home at Nacobo Village two years ago, she was shy and quiet, unlike other little girls her age.
Seini's shyness stemmed from her inability to make conversation because of a cleft palate from birth.
A cleft palate results when the plates of the skull that join to cover the roof of the mouth are not completely fused.
In such instances, the soft palate at the back of the mouth is often cleft as well. The opening creates problems not only for the formation of speech but also being able to eat food without having it flow into the nasal cavity.
"Seini's twin sister, Makelesi had a similar condition but she passed away a few months before we met Seini," says Patricia Wong, health volunteer in Levuka.
"Makelesi died after she burnt herself with hot tea as she tried to feed herself one morning."
Emele, Seini's mother did not know that Seini's situation could be remedied by surgery.
If Patricia had not visited Seini's village, Seini would have continued with her struggle and grown up without the gift of proper speech or ability to have a meal without having bits of food stray into her nasal cavity.
The ability to identify Seini's condition and others who have various disabilities is a credit to the training provided to volunteers of the Fiji Red Cross.
Training helps them to assess cases and train caregivers to look after children with special needs.
"After I explained to Emele, I contacted the doctor at Levuka Hospital to assess Seini and have her problem surgically corrected," Patricia said.
So Emele and Seini came to the capital on a journey that would change their lives. When they arrived at the CWM Hospital, a team of doctors and well-wishers were waiting for them.
The surgery was performed without incident and Seini's recovery has been smooth.
Seini and Emele's trip to Suva would not be possible without help from the International Women's Association which paid for their travel, accommodation and other expenses. After the surgery, the Red Cross arranged for sessions with a speech therapist.
"Emele tells me Seini is so talkative it is hard to get her to keep quiet," Patricia said with a laugh.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online