"Like in a dream"

Patient Stories
Giacomo Spinola, Operation Smile U-Voice student volunteer, and Ximena
Giacomo Spinola, Operation Smile U-Voice student volunteer, and Ximena. Operation Smile photo.

Editor’s note: This story was written by Giacomo Spinola, an Operation Smile U-Voice student volunteer from Rome and recent graduate of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. U-Voice storytellers capture the perspectives of our patients, our volunteers and of the unique challenges and triumphs of Operation Smile medical missions.

It was the end of the first day of screening at the August 2018 Operation Smile medical mission in Puebla, Mexico, when I met the lively 5-year-old Ximena.

I suppose Ximena noticed that I was conducting interviews and writing down patients’ stories. She came up to me while I was taking a break, grabbed my little blue notebook and wrote her name on a blank page. Most of the kids I talked to were initially a bit shy for the interview, but not Ximena. She expected me to interview her.

Impressed with her initiative, I took my pen and went in search of Ximena’s family.

After some playing around the mission site, Ximena introduced me to her mom. The two traveled four hours to meet Operation Smile, and they hope to get surgery to improve Ximena’s speech. The mom was exhausted but the little girl was still full of energy, she kept jumping and giggling around during the interview.

Ximena’s story with Operation Smile started in 2014 when she got her first surgery for her cleft lip. Before that, life was very hard; Ximena’s mom explained me the struggles of the first months of her daughter’s life. She never saw a cleft lip before until her baby was born with one.

I then asked her how is life different now, after they encountered Operation Smile. Right when she took a breath to answer the question, Ximena’s mom started crying.

I was not surprised; clearly those were tears of joy and emotion. I gave her some time and we just enjoyed the sound of silence. I did not have a translator for that interview and, despite the language barrier, Ximena’s mom and I shared a moment of deep understanding. No words needed to be spoken, no questions needed to be asked, we just looked at each other and smiled.

The answer to my question was simple: meeting Operation Smile was life-changing.

Ximena’s mom kept describing their first meeting with Operation Smile with the following words: “Como en una pelicula.”  On the spot, I did not know the meaning of these words. I got them translated and they mean: “like in a movie,” or metaphorically, “like in a dream.”

Well, fortunately Ximena’s smile is neither a movie nor a dream.

Her smile is real and it’s beautiful.

Ximena and her mom.
Ximena and her mom. Operation Smile photo.