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Dominican Republic

In His Mother's Arms

Photo: Marc Ascher

Immediately after Leudy was born, he was taken away before his mother, Marisol, could see him or hold him.

Leudy was born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate, and the doctor wanted to explain Leudy’s condition to Marisol before she met her baby. However, she had no idea why the doctor wouldn’t let her see her newborn. Instead, feelings of fear and uncertainty raced through Marisol’s mind in those immediate moments after giving birth.

“What could be wrong?”

When the doctor brought Leudy to Marisol, Leudy’s mouth was covered to hide his cleft lip and cleft palate. The doctor explained that there were surgical options for Leudy’s condition, but they would have to wait until he grew big enough to receive surgery safely.

Marisol and her husband, Ramon, were shocked. Their son’s cleft condition did not show up on any ultrasounds. Searching for an explanation, Marisol researched possible causes for his condition. She was convinced that food poisoning she suffered around two months into her pregnancy could have been the cause, but she also learned that there could be numerous reasons why Leudy was born with a cleft lip.

At first, Marisol didn’t want to take her baby outside, but she changed her mind early in Leudy's life. Some people would point at her son and say things about him in hushed tones as they passed. Marisol would bring a pacifier to cover his mouth and avoid the hurtful criticism and questioning of others.

“He is my son and he is beautiful,” Marisol said.

One day, as he was walking down the street, Ramon saw a baby with a repaired cleft lip and asked the baby’s mother where she received help for her child. She told him about Operation Smile and gave him the number to contact Perla Abreu, Operation Smile Dominican Republic's patient coordinator.

Ramon immediately sent a text to Perla, and they set up an appointment for Leudy’s comprehensive health assessment at an upcoming Operation Smile medical mission in Santo Domingo.

Leudy and Marisol took a three-hour bus ride from Higüey to the capital city. Ramon couldn't afford to miss work and had to stay behind.

At the hospital, Operation Smile medical volunteers evaluated Leudy to determine if he was was healthy enough to receive safe surgery. Marisol was relieved when he was cleared for surgery, but she also felt anxious about the upcoming procedure. Meanwhile, Ramon called every chance he had while at work to check on their son.

Photo: Carlos Rueda

Fortunately, Marisol and Leudy sat with an Operation Smile child life specialist before he was admitted into the operating room. The psychosocial care provider explained every aspect of the surgical process to Marisol and engaged Leudy in therapeutic play so that he would be more comfortable with the procedure at hand.

After Leudy’s awoke from anesthesia in the post-operative ward, Marisol held Leudy in her arms and stared at his repaired lip. No longer would she have to hide his lip behind a pacifier to avoid the hurtful comments of others. In this moment, she felt sheer happiness. For the first time in Leudy’s young life, she felt like he was destined for a brighter future.

Back at home, Ramon and the family’s neighbors couldn’t believe the instant change they saw in Leudy. They organized a huge celebration in honor of him and his remarkable transformation.

Since his surgery, Leudy has grown into a healthy, happy young boy. Marisol expressed her gratitude toward everyone at Operation Smile and to the medical volunteers who provide more than free and safe surgery to children like her son – they restore the dignity and hope of families like hers all over the world.

Photo: Carlos Rueda

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