"A pillar of my life"

Patient Stories

Ángel Didn't Think There Was Hope for His Daughter

Ángel and his daughter, Karla, waited anxiously.

At an Operation Smile medical mission in Puebla, Mexico, screening day had already been long and exhausting before a medical volunteer would announce which patients had been put on the surgical schedule.

Questions were asked about Karla’s history with her cleft lip and palate, photos were taken for health records and medical volunteers conducted a comprehensive health evaluation to determine if she was healthy enough for safe surgery.

But for Karla and her father, their anticipation would soon become elation.

“When they called her name, I didn’t know whether to cry, laugh or sing,” Ángel said with tears in his eyes, as he reminisced on that special day.

Karla, age 2. Photo: Jasmin Shah.
Karla, age 2. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

More than two years before traveling to the mission, Ángel and his wife, Julieta, were thrilled to be three months into the pregnancy of Karla, their fifth child. But their excitement soon turned to heartbreak when an ultrasound showed that their baby would be born with a cleft condition.

“We felt badly,” Ángel said. “Pain, anger. That’s how I felt.”

But the pain he felt couldn’t compare to the love he felt for his daughter. Even when his neighbors blamed him for Karla’s condition, Ángel never stopped loving and fighting for her.

“My daughter Karla is a pillar of my life and the reason I value life,” he said.

Her cleft lip and palate caused eating to be difficult. For the first year of her life, Karla had to be fed with a syringe.

Ángel searched for a hospital or organization that would provide affordable surgical care for his daughter, and for months, he was met with disappointment.

Feeling strained but determined, he continued his search until he found a local organization that not only connected him with Operation Smile Mexico, but also provided him transportation to the medical mission.

After years of feeling helpless, hope finally returned to Ángel.

After the numerous obstacles Karla and her father faced together, Karla’s chance at a brighter future had arrived.

Karla enjoys singing a playing with local volunteers in the child life area. Through play, these young patients are able to remain calm and happy in this new, and often stressful, hospital environment. Photo: Jasmin Shah.
Karla enjoys singing and playing with local volunteers in the child life area. Through play, these young patients are able to remain calm and happy in this new, and often stressful, hospital environment. Photo: Jasmin Shah.
When it's Karla’s turn for surgery, her surgeon, Dr. Blas Dominguez of Mexico, and clinical coordinator Rosy Frias take Karla to the operating room. Photo: Jasmin Shah.
When it's Karla’s turn for surgery, her surgeon, Dr. Blas Dominguez of Mexico, and clinical coordinator Rosy Frias take Karla to the operating room. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

As he watched his daughter walk toward the operating room, Ángel became anxious but had faith in the Operation Smile medical team.

After his daughter’s cleft lip surgery, Ángel could not look away from his daughter’s new smile.

“The feelings I had when I saw her, with the surgery done, I cried inside. I was happy,”  he said. “I will make it my life’s mission to find and help families with clefts.”

Karla sees her new smile for the first time. Photo: Jasmin Shah.
Karla sees her new smile for the first time. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

And today, Ángel is doing just that.

At the most recent Oaxaca mission, he volunteered as a patient advocate, comforting nervous parents and letting them know what to expect just as someone did for his family two years before.