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Patient Story India

Centered Around a New Beginning

Patient Story India

Centered Around a New Beginning

Meet 6-month-old Dilfa, before. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Holding a newborn child for the first time is often one of the most joyous days in a parent’s life. 

For Tasheen, it was a moment of shock and sadness.

One that day, she learned that her daughter, Dilfa, was born with a cleft lip. 

Tasheen didn’t understand why her daughter was born with the condition. She had never seen or heard of anyone with a cleft condition before. Immediately, Tasheen began to blame herself, believing it was her inability to access nutritious foods throughout the pregnancy. She started to feel overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, doubt and fear.

It’s currently difficult to identify the exact cause of a specific person’s cleft condition. Potential causes can be hereditary, environmental or a combination of both factors. Despite what she believed, Tasheen wasn’t at fault. 

Tasheen’s uncertainty about how to help her daughter turned to hope shortly after Dilfa’s birth when doctors told the family that surgery could repair her cleft condition. They were referred to a hospital – unaffiliated with Operation Smile – in Banaras for further evaluation. 

After arriving at the hospital, the family learned that Dilfa also has a cardiac problem. With this secondary condition, cleft surgery was deemed too risky at the time, and they returned home without care and without support for what to do next.  

While Dilfa’s family continued their search for a solution, the local Operation Smile team in India was enhancing their search as well. With patient recruitment the foundation of its approach to improve access to cleft care, Operation Smile India reaches more families like Dilfa’s living in the region’s most remote areas. 

It wasn’t until a few months later that Tasheen and Operation Smile India’s paths finally crossed.

In 2018, Dilfa and her family connected with the local Operation Smile volunteer team in India who provided her with a surgery that would forever change her life. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Tasheen learned about the organization’s comprehensive care center located in Durgapur – not far from where the family lived. 

Once in the care of Operation Smile India’s medical team, Dilfa received an evaluation at the Durgapur center. After their consultation, Tasheen couldn’t contain her joy when she learned that Dilfa was deemed healthy enough for surgery by medical volunteers. Ensuring Dilfa’s family that it was safe for their daughter to receive surgery, volunteers asked the family to return for the upcoming surgical program taking place the following month. 

After much anticipation, 6-month-old Dilfa and her family arrived at the surgical site full of hope for what was to come. Following another medical evaluation to ensure it was still safe to perform surgery with her heart condition, Dilfa was placed on the surgical schedule. 

The course of Dilfa’s life was forever changed with her first surgery.

One year after her life-changing cleft lip surgery, 18-month-old Dilfa shares her beautiful smile after receiving care from Operation Smile India. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Tasheen was flooded with happiness and relief when she saw her daughter for the first time after surgery.

Looking at Dilfa’s new smile, Tasheen felt strongly that life would change very soon and that a brighter future was ahead her daughter. Soon after the surgery, Tasheen said she noticed how Dilfa looked stronger and began crying less and eating more. 

Dilfa returned a few months later for her cleft palate surgery and became just one of the many children who has benefited from the care being provided at the Durgapur center

To this day, Operation Smile India continues its work to strengthen its community outreach programs beyond patient recruitment by bringing nutrition programs, speech therapy, post-operative care and more closer to families and patients like Dilfa.

One year following her cleft lip surgery, 18-month-old Dilfa and her mom, Tasheen, pose for a photo to share her beautiful new smile. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep families safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence.


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.