Boitumelo can now smile with courage, thanks to operation
Boitumelo Moretsele would often stand in front of the mirror trying to "fix" her lopsided smile with her fingers.
The Grade 2 Brakpan North pupil could not understand why other children ridiculed her because she appeared different to them.
For most children of Boitumelo's age, pulling a funny face, smiling and frowning happens without a thought.
Not so for the seven-year-old who was born with a complex congenital neurological disorder, Moebius Syndrome, which has robbed her of her ability to smile.
The disorder can affect multiple cranial nerves including the facial nerve, which result in muscle paralysis that brings about facial movements.
The condition is so rare that there is no statistics available in South Africa.
Now thanks to the Smile Foundation and a team of expert surgeons, Boitumelo may soon be able to express her happiness, joy and even sadness.
The little girl was for almost ten hours under the scalpel at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban this week.
She and eight-year-old Olwethu Diseko from Potchefstroom, afflicted with paralysis on one side of her face, were operated on by a team of surgeons including Smile Foundation's medical director Dr George Psaras, and Professor Anil Madaree, who heads the University of KwaZulu-Natal's department of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
The reconstructive surgery was part of a first-ever Smile Facial Reanimation Week, in which the Smile Foundation - an NGO that helps children with facial or other conditions receive reconstructive surgery - joined forces.
Boitumelo's parents Juliet, a pharmacist, and Happy, a pastor, said they were relieved.
"We are so grateful to the foundation and the doctors who have given our little girl the chance to smile again," Juliet said.