Surviving lunge: this is how Joseph found a new lease on life

By Arinze Chijioke

In this report, Arinze Chijioke tells the story of a young man who went from being rejected and teased for being born with a cleft to managing congregations as a pastor after having surgery.

Growing up in a family of eight in Ikot Ekpene, a historic town in the southern state of Akwa Ibom, Israel Joseph could only watch every time his rights were violated.

The second child in his family, Joseph was born with a cleft lip and palate on the left side 33 years ago.

A cleft lip contains an opening in the upper lip that can extend into the nose, and a cleft palate occurs when the palate contains an opening in the nose, according to Wikipedia. hall above.

“Whenever I had a little quarrel with one of my siblings, they laughed at me because I had a cleft. I cried all the time, even when I knew I was right”, says Joseph.

When he was younger, his parents took him to Akwa Ibom Hospital for surgery. But after the surgery, the cleft was not corrected properly. Everything he ate, both solid and liquid, came out through his nose. His health was seriously affected.

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He said some people told his parents he was a curse and had to be abandoned, others told them he had a cleft because his mother was playing with a machete and that left him cut off when she was pregnant with him. Others also told them that it was a punishment for the sin they had committed years ago.

Israel Joseph talks about his experience

A global challenge

Although there is no single known cause for a cleft lip or palate, a combination of complex genetic and environmental factors such as smoking, alcohol and certain types of medications during pregnancy can increase the risk that a child is born with the defect.

Unfortunately, many of these children around the world do not receive the surgery they need to correct the defect and as a result they have hearing loss and difficulty breathing, speaking and eating, which leads to malnutrition, said the public relations and communications manager. for Africa at Smile Train, Emily Manjeru.

A life of isolation

In 2007, Joseph came to the southeastern state of Enugu to continue his studies at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT). He had been admitted to study computer science.

Before he was admitted, Joseph recalls, he couldn’t answer questions in his primary and secondary school, even when he knew what to say, because the other children made fun of him.

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“They always said I couldn’t speak,” he says, adding, “I was discriminated against; many of my classmates couldn’t look at me. They couldn’t sit next to me in class.

As a result, Joseph grew up always on his own. He says he couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror because he hated the way he looked.

At first, her parents felt it was pointless to spend money on her education, given her condition. According to him, they wondered if he would one day become someone great in life.

At IMT, he brought practically nothing to class because he was afraid that his classmates would make fun of him. He couldn’t express himself, even when he wanted to. In 2011, he graduated after obtaining his higher national diploma.

He had also trained as a pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

Israel Joseph
Israel Joseph

Find help

In 2012, a year after graduating, Joseph attended an event where a plastic surgeon from the National Orthopedic Hospital in Enugu, Ifeanyichukwu Onah, spoke about the cleft and how it can be corrected. by surgery.

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“When I heard it, I wondered if it was possible and how much it was going to cost. I was willing to do anything in my power to look great. I knew I could always go back to school,” he said.

At the end of the event, he met Onah, who told him that a non-governmental organization, Smile Train, was sponsoring free surgeries for people with cleft, and all he had to do was go to present. They exchanged contacts and he was told when to come to the hospital.

On the day of the operation, he did not tell his parents because he feared they would discourage him since they had given up hope that something could be done to correct the abnormality.

“Joseph was 25 years and 8 months old when he came to us with the cleft palate, and although he had already had a lip repair, it needed revision,” says Onah, who had attended workshops on improving one’s skills to undertake a lunge. surgeries.

Joseph was admitted on March 27, 2012 and underwent surgery the following day. While her lip was operated on and completely revised, the palate was closed. Onah says such a combined surgery takes a bit of time.

“Because he was an adult, there was some bleeding, but he didn’t need a blood transfusion at the end of the operation,” he explains.

After being discharged the day after the operation, Joseph returned home with instructions on his diet. She was asked to avoid chewing and avoid hard foods for the next few weeks. He also had to start speech therapy after the wound healed.

When he was completely cured and returned home, his parents were surprised and asked him what had happened. He told them how an operation sponsored by Smile Train helped correct the deformity.

Manjeru said Smile Train, through its model of true sustainability, has provided training, funding and resources to enable local healthcare professionals in over 70 countries to provide free, comprehensive cleft care in their homes. own communities.

She explained that the NGO has performed more than 1.5 million cleft surgeries for people of all ages since its inception in 1999, adding that the goal is to give every child with a cleft the opportunity to a full and healthy life.

A changed life

After the operation, Joseph was promoted to senior pastor and given his own parish. Since then, he has led a congregation of over 200 worshipers in five different churches. He is currently Parish Leader of Grace Town, GRA Enugu.

In September 2021, he married Chinwe Edeoga, and in August this year she gave birth to a daughter, Joy Oluomachi, who was born without a cleft, dispelling the idea that a married man or woman is born with a cleft must give birth to children with a cleft. He said his wife supported him.

Joseph hopes to go back to school and get a master’s degree in education. He says he tried to let people know that the lunge is not a death sentence and can be fixed.

Now many of those who knew when he had a cleft can no longer recognize him. Every time he comes home and his elementary and high school classmates see him, they walk up and try to figure out if it’s him or someone else, he says.

Israel Joseph preaching to his congregation
Israel Joseph preaching to his congregation

“I can go anywhere I want and people love to associate with me,” he says. “I no longer have any limitations or any form of intimidation. I made so many friends and I now have a lot of pictures on my phone.”

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Christine E. Phillips