As parents who had been raising two healthy children, Armand and his wife, Solo, couldn’t have foreseen what happened on the day that their third child, Brunel, was born.
As they anticipated welcoming their daughter into the world, excitement filled their hearts. But when that time came, instead of being overjoyed, Armand and Solo were met with pain and sadness when Brunel was born with a cleft lip.
He was initially shocked at her condition, but Armand loved his daughter and never stopped believing that he would find a solution. And after three months of searching, Armand’s hope grew stronger when he learned that surgery was possible at a nearby hospital.
It looked as if Armand had finally found the answer for which he had been searching. But when doctors informed him that Brunel was too young and too small to receive care, his heart broke all over again. The hospital staff had promised to contact him when surgery was possible.
That call never came.
As four years passed by, Armand and Solo watched Brunel grow into a friendly little girl with a lively personality and beautiful laugh. Armand always remained close by, watching over her and tirelessly protecting her. But even he couldn’t prevent the hurtful abuse and ridicule she would endure from her peers.
Armand told us that when Brunel attended school, some children would call her “sima,” a derogatory term for cleft in the local language of Malagasy.
Throughout Brunel’s life, he continued to worry about her future and agonized over the fact that he couldn’t get her the care that she needed. After years of repeatedly trying to find a solution, it seemed that surgery to repair Brunel’s cleft lip would remain out of his reach.
Then one day, Armand met Mr. Fidelis, a patient advocate for Operation Smile in Madagascar.
After his own child had been born with a cleft condition, Mr. Fidelis made it his individual mission to find other children and personally transport their families to Operation Smile medical mission sites. Armand and Brunel became one of those families.
After traveling together for 13 hours, they arrived at the mission site in Antsirabe.
Although Armand had been aware that there were other children with cleft conditions, he was stunned to see how many had arrived at the patient village, eagerly waiting to receive surgery from Operation Smile.
Medical volunteers performed a comprehensive health evaluation and determined that Brunel was healthy enough to be put on the surgical schedule. At long last, she was going to receive the free, life-changing surgery for which her father had been searching for her entire life.
Confident in the outcome of his daughter’s operation, Armand said, “I dream that after surgery, she’ll go to school and be like any other child.”
His dream would come true.
After a successful surgery, Brunel and Armand returned home. Overcome with emotion, when Solo saw her daughter’s new smile, she couldn’t stop kissing and hugging her.
Today, Brunel spends most of her time playing outside in her neighborhood with friends who no longer call her “sima.”
When Operation Smile caught up with Armand a few months later, he had this message:
“Thank you Operation Smile,” he said. “Please say hello and thank you to all the Operation Smile Madagascar staff.”