His Story, His Words

Patient Stories
Guibson poses for a photo before his surgery. Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.
Guibson poses for a photo before his surgery. Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.

Within Guibson is incredible strength that pushes him to pursue his dreams – strength that his mother, Iva, instilled in him.

After giving birth to her son at a hospital in Pará, Brazil, Iva’s life turned upside down. When she saw his cleft lip for the first time, a feeling of helplessness struck.

No previous ultrasound had revealed Guibson’s condition. She was devastated and had no idea how to help her baby.  

But becoming a mother filled Iva with something even more powerful: love.   

With an unwavering determination to find a solution for her son, nothing could have stopped her from giving Guibson a chance at a happy life after she learned about the possibility of surgery from a nurse soon after his birth.

Many people told Iva that she was foolish for letting doctors operate on her 6-month-old son. The confidence she had in the medical team (unaffiliated with Operation Smile) allowed her to ignore those judgmental comments and fight for her child’s life.    

When the procedure was over, Iva felt an immense sense of relief. The operation appeared to be a success, and Iva believed that Guibson would heal without any complications.  

But as he grew older, Guibson’s inner strength was tested when the results from his operation slowly reversed. The need for corrective surgery became crucial as the hardships he faced intensified.

Many of his peers ruthlessly teased him and excluded him from activities when he started school. Iva remembered that he would often return home crying because of this cruelty.

Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.
Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.

“I was heartbroken to see my boy suffering,” Iva recalled. “As a mother, I gave support, tried to help him … but inside, it hurt in me as much as in him.”  

This horrible treatment was almost too much for Guibson to handle. He often considered quitting school, putting his dream of attending a university and studying agronomy, zootechnics or veterinary medicine at risk.

But even at a young age, Guibson was tough, and the abuse that he faced every day wasn’t enough to steer him away from the goals that he’d made for himself. That ambition helped him persevere and finish high school.     

Being surrounded by a loving family, Guibson experienced many happy moments. But the pain that he coped with over the years took an emotional toll.

“They see your smile, but they don’t imagine what’s going on inside you,” Guibson said. “I was born like this, full of joy, but it’s not all the time that the smile reflects what you are feeling inside.”

For 22 years, he did his best to hide the pain that living with a cleft condition caused him – until the day when his life changed in an instant.

While watching TV one afternoon, Guibson saw a commercial for an upcoming Operation Smile medical mission in Santarém. He didn’t hesitate to buy a bus ticket for the 12-hour journey.

He and his mother arrived at 3 a.m. and were the third family in line for patient screenings. An hour later, the line had wrapped around the block with more families hoping that their child would receive a free, life-saving surgery from Operation Smile.

Later that day, medical volunteers performed Guibson’s comprehensive health evaluation and delivered the news that he had been waiting his entire life to hear.

He had been selected for surgery.

“Here in Operation Smile, you guys say, ‘One smile at a time.’ It’s my smile’s turn now!” Guibson said on the day of his surgery.

Almost an hour after hugging and kissing his mother for good luck, Guibson awoke from anesthesia and saw his new smile for the first time.

Guibson's mother, Iva, embraces her son after seeing his new smile. Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.
Guibson's mother, Iva, embraces her son after seeing his new smile. Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.

Apart from repairing his cleft lip, surgery had accomplished something much greater. It gave Guibson an opportunity to feel completely happy for the first time in his life.

Operation Smile reconnected with Guibson after he returned to Santarém for his 6-month post-operative consultation. His surgical result was outstanding, having healed beautifully, and the medical volunteers were thrilled to learn that he’s been dating someone for two months.

When asked how Guibson would describe his life today, he offered one word: gratitude.

“Gratitude for everything that has happened in my life in the recent months. Gratitude to God for having put Operation Smile angels in my life,” Guibson said.

He shared his appreciation with the Operation Smile medical team by writing an original poem titled “Dreams.” He hopes that when someone reads his poem, they gain the will to never stop striving for what they want in life.  

“I wish that people can believe in their dreams and believe that someday they will come true just like mine did,” he said. “And that they never think of giving up their dreams because we only achieve our goals by dreaming.”  

Guibson with program coordinator Ambra Marengo after receiving surgery to repair his cleft lip. Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.
Guibson with program coordinator Ambra Marengo after receiving surgery to repair his cleft lip. Photo courtesy of Carla Formanek.

Here is Guibson’s poem, translated from Portuguese to English:

Fighting for your dreams is seeing life differently,
Realizing that everything is within your reach.
Something strong that is born inside you,
Something everyone can reach.

Until someone comes and says:
Stop! Enough! It’s over!
And you get discouraged,
Ending what barely started.

These things make us give up,
and even stop smiling.
Letting a dream be just a memory
And losing any hope you had about it.
Until someone arrives and says:
Come on! You can do it! You can achieve it!

You stand up and pursue
Something that's very good to feel.
And then, when you do it,
You realize,
That you’re smiling again.

Photo courtesy of Guibson.
Photo courtesy of Guibson.