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Patient Story Bolivia

A Grandmother’s Everlasting Love

Eight-month-old Heydi with her grandmother, Claudina. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

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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. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

Claudina knew that her 16-year-old daughter, Wara, had a high-risk pregnancy. But she never imagined the series of challenges that would ultimately unfold after Wara went into labor.

With a need for additional medical support, Wara was sent to a hospital in La Paz, Bolivia, where a medical team could provide her the care she required. 

But there was one major obstacle standing in their way: The hospital was five hours away from their home.

Determined to overcome any obstacle for her family, and with no other options, Claudina and Wara ordered a taxi and set out on their way.

However, during the drive, it became apparent that Wara wouldn’t make it to the hospital before giving birth. 

Thinking fast, Claudina instructed the taxi driver to pull over, and quickly stepped up to deliver her newest granddaughter Heydi. 

But seeing Heydi’s cleft condition for the first time in the back seat of the taxi, Claudina and Wara soon grasped that their troubles were far from over.

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

After the ambulance arrived, they were rushed to a nearby community health center before being transferred to the La Paz hospital where Wara and Heydi spent the next 36 hours recovering. 

During this time, Claudina began to focus her attention on the next obstacle that the family would face – finding a way to get Heydi surgery to repair her cleft lip. 

Although there was no indication that Heydi would be born with a cleft condition, that didn’t stop other family members and people in their community from making harmful remarks in passing and placing all blame on Wara. 

This took an emotional toll on Wara. Despite the immense love she had for her daughter, Wara felt in her heart that making Claudina Heydi’s principal caregiver was the best decision for her family.

More than anything, Wara wanted Heydi to live a happy life without worry or fear of the stigma that’s often associated with having a cleft condition. 

Heydi’s grandfather, Florencio, inquired about care from a private hospital that he knew provided surgery. But as farmers who made a meager income selling potatoes and beans, Claudina and Florencio feared that without surgery, their granddaughter would live her entire life with an unrepaired cleft lip. 

But they continued their search, never once giving up hope. 

Then one day, a family member told them about Operation Smile Bolivia and the team of medical professionals who provide free reconstructive cleft surgery to children like Heydi around the world. 

Volunteer pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Karin Strand of Sweden and volunteer post-anesthesia care unit physician Dr. Ben Hu of the U.S. provide Heydi's comprehensive health evaluation to determine if she's healthy enough to receive cleft surgery during a 2018 surgical program in Santa Cruz. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Claudina's hope deepened when she received a call informing her that a surgical mission would be taking place soon.

One week before the program, Heydi was seen by Operation Smile medical volunteers in La Paz and given a comprehensive medical evaluation to ensure she was a candidate for safe surgery. As a healthy 8-month-old, she passed and was cleared to attend the mission 18 hours away in Santa Cruz. 

Claudina, Heydi and many other families of children born with cleft who were looking forward to receiving surgery boarded the bus for the long journey ahead.

On the day of Heydi’s surgery, Claudina waited anxiously, remembering the hardships it had taken their family to get to this point. 

But seeing Heydi smile for the first time after surgery made every unexpected hurdle they endured throughout the past year worth it. 

Volunteer cleft surgeon Dr. Carlos Hugo Dorado of Bolivia, left, and pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Karin Strand of Sweden, center, carry Heydi out of the operating room toward the waiting arms of her grandmother, Claudina. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

There was no doubt that Claudina loved Heydi from the moment she was born, regardless of her cleft condition.

But now, she knew Heydi wouldn't have to worry about the opinions of others or the stigma surrounding cleft.

She would grow up feeling loved and cherished by everyone.

Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Heydi, today. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

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