July 2009 Issue
The Fence
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Amazing Grace

Andrew Bova took the stage at his church in Maumee, Ohio, and raised his bagpipe to his lips. The sophomore bagpipe performance major blew into the blowpipe and pumped the bag, creating that distinctive sound that is so familiar to all Carnegie Mellon students. The audience listened attentively. But what made the performance especially poignant was that it might never have happened had it not been for a surgical procedure to correct his cleft lip and palate.

The cleft lip and palate condition is caused by a malformation in the womb in which the plates that form the roof of the mouth don't come together completely, leaving a disfigurement that can make breathing and talking uncomfortable. Bova was fortunate to be born into a family that had the means and resources to correct his condition through a series of surgeries during his childhood. His only physical reminder of the cleft is a small scar on his upper lip. "I was never told by anyone that I couldn't do anything because of my cleft," he says.

He initially faced some difficulty when he started to play the flute in third grade, but once the palate was completely fixed, he went on to excel at the instrument and even played a concerto with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra last year. It was the bagpipes, though, that caught his attention in sixth grade, and he set his sights on Carnegie Mellon before he started high school as it's the only institution in the country that offers a bagpipe performance degree.

Bova realized just how fortunate he was when he first heard about Operation Smile, a charity that has helped more than 130,000 children born with cleft lips and palates and other facial deformities. The organization relies heavily on donations to provide corrective surgeries for children whose families can't afford the medical treatments. Children born with the condition face more than physical difficulties; they often are ostracized from their communities because of their appearance. "It's a shame, because it's so easy to fix," says Bova. "I just wanted to be able to give kids with my same condition the same opportunities that I had."

So Bova gathered musicians for a benefit concert at his church during a break from school. His community members showed up in droves, and the performance raised $2,250 for Operation Smile, enough to pay for corrective surgeries for 10 children.

Kelly Delaney (HS'09)

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Ron Lupish ( E&S 1966)

I truly enjoyed reading Andrew Bova's story. I found I could identify very much with him, since I too was born with a cleft palate and lip, played the flute in grade school... and play the pipes!!! I learned to play during my undergraduate years at Carnegie (Tech), and have continued to play after graduation. I was very glad the article discussed Operation Smile (operationsmile.org). I did want to make readers aware of The Smile Train (smiletrain.org), a very similar organization, which was highlighted in the Academy Award winning documentary, "Smile, Pinki". Both organizations do tremendous work sponsoring the repair of clefts worldwide, and giving kids a new chance at life.