Tata asked Marc Lubner to help him secure surgery for a young child suffering from a rare medical condition causing facial nerve paralysis (known as Moebius Syndrome). Thabile Malambo Manyathi relentlessly wrote letters monthly to Nelson Mandela appealing for assistance to help her child Thando go overseas to have a highly specialized procedure known as Facial Reanimation surgery, which would correct the Facial Paralysis with which she was born. As fate would have it, Thabile’s desperate plea found its way into Madiba’s personal pile of letters, and without a second thought he made the call.
The Lubner Family inspired by Thando saw the bigger picture. There was no sustainability in sending one child overseas, so why not bring the skills home? With that Dr Ron Zucker and Dr Craig Van Der Kolk were invited to South Africa to transfer the skills of this technique to South Africa.
A surgeon George Psaras, then Head of Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Witwatersrand was the first surgeon in the country to learn this very specialized skill. The Independent Newspaper group joined forces and the Star Smile Fund was born. In 2007 the Smile Fund’s growth necessitated the organization’s establishment as a Section 21, and the re-launch as The Smile Foundation. The Smile Foundation is a non-profit organization that together with the country’s Academic Hospitals, highly skilled doctors and tenacious nurses – literally put smiles on the faces of hundreds of children around the country on an annual basis.
Providing Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery for children living with facial conditions the Smile Foundation offers a holistic approach to Ubuntu. This includes investing in the infrastructure of the public healthcare system through academic skills development for medical personnel, funding of equipment utilized by the Departments of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and assisting each child with pre and post-surgical care to transform the lives of these children who are often ostracized living with their facial conditions. The Smile Foundation is the consequence of Mr Nelson Mandela’s belief and passion for children, that together anything can be achieved – any life can be changed.