Nandini Arakoni, a Native American teenager from Naperville, Ill., Was born with a cleft lip.
Arakoni, who was born in the United States, had three surgeries: the first when she was just two months old, the second at six months old, and her last surgery at the age of five. “The one I remember,” said Arakoni India-West laughing, adding that the operation caused him considerable pain afterwards. âI was home for a week eating popsicles,â she said, noting that she now only had a small scar, instead of the disfiguring affliction.
âI have always thought about how lucky I am to be born here and to receive treatment to live this blessed life,â she said.
Children born with a cleft lip or palate may have difficulty eating, speaking and breathing, and also face the stigma of a significant deformity.
Earlier this year, Arakoni teamed up with her friend, Sanjana Gangadharan, to think about ways to give back to the community. The duo came up with the idea of ââselling charm bracelets to raise funds for Smile Train, an organization that provides cleft lip and palate surgery to children around the world. They founded the organization ‘Side by Side Smiles’ – sidebysidesmiles.org – to sell their jewelry at $ 5 per bracelet.
Each bracelet takes about seven minutes to make and features a heart to symbolize love; a key symbolizing that anyone can unlock happiness for another person; and a feather, to represent how light and easy it is to tell the difference.
Gangadharan and Arakoni – both 15, entering second year of high school – have so far raised $ 4,200, which will be used to perform 16 cleft palate surgeries. Enterprising philanthropists hope to raise enough money to fund 400 surgeries, at a cost of around $ 100,000.
India is one of the main beneficiaries of Smile Train services. Austin Ruckstuhl, head of community fundraising at Smile Train, said India-West. Since 1999, Smile Train partner surgeons in India have performed more than 500,000 surgeries, he said.
In India, Smile Train works with 160 partner hospitals in more than 110 cities, including remote locations. The organization offers approximately 45,000 free cleft surgeries each year.
âWe are very proud that Sanjana and Nandini have raised $ 4,200 to support 16 surgeries,â said Ruckstuhl. âSanjana and Nandini are real heroes for children all over the world born with clefts. They have not only raised funds for these children, but they are working hard to raise awareness in their community.
âSmile Train is incredibly grateful to these wonderful girls and hopes their work will continue to inspire others,â said Ruckstuhl.
Deformity of a lip or palate is easily treatable with 45-minute surgery, Gangadharan said India-West, noting that Smile Train maximizes the donations it receives by training doctors around the country to perform the surgeries, rather than bringing in surgeons from the United States
In July, Gangadharan visited the clinic of orthodontist Himanshu Dave in Ghatkopar East, Mumbai, and saw firsthand young children awaiting cleft surgery and patients who had undergone the procedure.
âIt is remarkable how completely a surgical operation transforms the life of a child,â she said.
Arakoni, who hopes to become a lawyer in the future, said: âIt’s really impressive how little it takes to change the world. Every $ 5 we get is two percent of a surgery.