Care for Brighter Futures: Iris' Story, Part 2

Patient Stories

Iris story is the third of a three-part series highlighting our care centers in Colombia and Nicaragua. Continued from “Care for Brighter Futures: Iris’ Story, Part 1.”

Care for Brighter Futures: Iris Part 2

Early in the morning, Operation Smile Nicaragua’s volunteer medical team arrives at Hospital Alemán Nicaragüense to prepare for the two surgeries to be performed that day.

Iris is one of those patients.

In a bed in the pre-operative ward, Iris is lying face down, not wanting to talk to anybody. 

“She is nervous and afraid because it is the first time she is at a hospital, undergoing surgery,” says Sandra, Iris’ mother, as she sits on the bed next to her daughter. “I am praying to God that everything will go well and that she feels better after. 

“She is beautiful as she is, but I think she will be a happier person when this is over,” Sandra says as she strokes Iris’ hair carefully.

It’s almost time for Iris’ cleft lip surgery and Dr. Maria José Chevéz, the psychologist who she met yesterday at the center, is there to keep her calm. They walk towards the operating room and sit on a bench for a while, playing and talking.

Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.
Iris enjoys therapeutic play time before her cleft lip surgery from Operation Smile Nicaragua. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

Suddenly, Dr. Rodrigo Cabrera, a cleft surgeon and the medical director of Operation Smile Nicaragua, comes out to greet Iris and Sandra. He is dressed in his surgical gown and wears a Superman surgeon’s cap.

“Hello my angel! Hello mom,” he says. He places his hand on the paper Iris is drawing on and lets her use a crayon to draw the pattern of his hand. He jokes and makes everybody laugh.

But now it’s time to go. He takes Iris’ hand and they together walk into the operating room, leaving Sandra outside to pray and wait.

“I have been waiting for this since she was a little baby,” Sandra says. “Ever since I got in touch with Operation Smile in January, we have been treated well. Everybody has been so nice and accommodating. Now I feel so happy that this moment is here”.

Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.
In the operating room, Iris is moments away from undergoing anesthesia to receive her life-changing cleft lip surgery. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

While the anesthesiologist takes care of Iris and calmly lets her breath into the mask, Rodrigo explains how Iris is just one of many cases in this country.

“She should have had treatment for this 11 years ago,” he says. “But Iris is a typical example of what happens here, where many patients are born in the countryside with no access to health care or doctors close by, which makes treatment in time very difficult.

“However, Operation Smile has created a name for itself here, an identity in this country. We have become a center of reference for treatment of cleft lip and cleft palate, so we are well-established here now. 

“Our next step is to expand our services to a national and regional level, and by regional, I mean in Central America. So that Operation Smile Nicaragua can be seen as a center of reference all over Central America, not only for children with cleft, but also for children born with all sorts of craniofacial malformations,” adds Rodrigo before putting on his sterilized gown and gloves to start the procedure to carefully join together the divided parts of Iris’ lip.

Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.
Cleft surgeon Dr. Rodrigo Cabrera, medical director of Operation Smile Nicaragua, performs Iris’ cleft lip surgery. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

An hour later, the moment has arrived for Sandra to see her daughter for the first time after surgery. As Rodrigo brings Iris to the recovery room on a rolling bed, Sandra can’t hold her tears back. She cries openly, embraces her daughter and talks to her with so much love in her voice:

“Thanks to God everything went well, my darling. You can relax and just recover now. I am crying because I want to thank God and everyone who has been working with you.” 

With tears in her eyes, Maria is also there to witness this emotional moment.

“After this surgery, Iris will be able to come back to her village and feel and look like the rest of the children there,” Maria says. “She will be able to feel confident and overcome her shyness a little at a time so she won’t feel the need to cover her face anymore.”

Full of emotions, Sandra sees Iris’ new smile for the first time after surgery. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

Editor’s note: We are deeply saddened by the violence associated with the civil unrest unfolding in Nicaragua, and we send our most heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We hope that a just and peaceful resolution can be reached. Amid this emergent situation, our commitment to our patients in the country remains steadfast. In Nicaragua, the means of delivering medical care requires collaboration with the Ministry of Health, and that includes our work on the Surgery for the People project. We firmly believe that it's our responsibility to continue serving Nicaraguan patients and their families, regardless of their political views. As we seek to heal inequities that limit people’s access to the health care that they deserve, we will continue working toward improving health and dignity in the country.