April 21, 2014
Jenna Fredrickson , U-Voice Student Volunteer
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Bite after bite, an attentive mother spoon-fed her squirming toddler with a precise purpose. Darisleidy, the 2-year-old, was more interested in the nearest balloon or soccer ball than in taking another bite of her mother’s eggs and potatoes. But Luisa María, Darisleidy's mother, was unwavering. She wanted to make sure her baby was healthy enough for the coming days.
Luisa María and Darisleidy traveled to Operation Smile’s Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic mission site. They have been here three times previously. This was their fourth visit, and Luisa María had determination in her eyes.
Luisa’s only baby girl, Darisleidy was born in October 2011 to her mom and dad. It wasn’t until Darisleidy was 17 days old that Lusia María realized her baby had a cleft palate.
Though some parents might find themselves in a whirlwind of questions at that point, Luisa María did not. She wasn’t scared because she had seen a cleft before – her neighbor had a cleft palate. She had heard babies with clefts had trouble feeding, but her baby was drinking milk well. Her family did not jump to conclusions about why Darisleidy was born with a cleft palate. Rather, they just knew they must go to the doctor.
A local doctor talked to the family about cleft palate conditions, described that there was no specific cause of it, and ensured Luisa María she had done nothing wrong. Shortly thereafter, Darisleidy’s grandmother heard about Operation Smile through a newspaper. Together, they called the organization when Darisleidy was 3 months old and traveled to the mission site hoping Darisleidy could get surgery.
Luisa María recalled her first day at the mission site – so many other children with clefts all accepting of one another. She realized her daughter was not alone, she cried, and she thanked God for Operation Smile. But their visit to the mission site that year was just the start of a multi-year journey.
That day they found out Darisleidy was not cleared for surgery because she was too malnourished. But Operation Smile did not turn her away. Instead, they asked Luisa María to return to the Operation Smile Dominican Republic office every month to receive the food, water, vitamins and other nourishments to help Darisleidy gain healthy weight to prepare her for surgery next time.
By the next mission, Darisleidy was again too undernourished to receive safe surgery. Her mother continued the nutrition process until Darisleidy was of a healthy weight. But upon their return for the third time, Darisleidy this time was sick with the flu – her cleft palate had made her more prone to illness.
Returning for the fourth time for a chance at a life-changing surgery, Luisa María knows this time, her daughter will be healthy for surgery. She’s hopeful of the life Operation Smile will give her daughter. Like any parent, she wants the best possible life for her daughter.
“I want my daughter to be normal. I want her to talk. I want her to say mama, I want her to go to school. I want her to be a great professional,” Luisa María told me.
On this day, the two patiently went through each station of the screening process as they have three times before – medical records, patient identification photos, Patient Imaging Technicians, evaluations with surgeons, anesthesiologist and pediatricians, dentists, nurses, speech pathologists and nutritionists, and finally, completing any necessary lab work.
At the end of the screening line, the moment came for Luisa María and her little girl to find out Darisleidy will receive surgery this time. The doctors contemplated, looking over papers, talking to each other in English. Luisa María wrung her hands, picking at her fingernails waiting for a yes or no.
Finally the answer: Yes.
Luisa María threw her arms around a volunteer in joy, and picked up baby Darisleidy. She knew in that moment, a future of hope, change, and life is ahead of them.
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