After a difficult birth, the one thing Mariana wanted to do was hold her baby.
But before she was given a chance, doctors informed Mariana that her daughter, Sabine, had a cleft condition. Finally holding Sabine in her arms for the first time, Mariana was flooded with unconditional love and joy. It wasn’t until later that feelings of anxiety and guilt emerged as she began to wonder how she would give Sabine the life every mother wishes for their child.
Before going home, Mariana and her husband, Ricardo, were given two options.
Hospital staff informed the family that the surgery Sabine needed might be possible through their health insurance. But this meant that they’d likely still need to cover a portion of the surgical costs.
The alternative option was an organization called Operation Smile Mexico, which neither Ricardo nor Mariana had ever heard of before. But when they were told that teams of medical professionals specialize in helping children like Sabine access free cleft surgery, they were determined to learn more.
After completing their online research of the organization, Mariana and Ricardo placed their trust – and the person they love most – in the care of Operation Smile volunteers.
For patients like Sabine who are born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate, difficulties with feeding can lead to life-threatening malnutrition. This often prevents children from being healthy enough to undergo anesthesia, ultimately delaying their start toward a healthier future. Receiving pre-surgical breastfeeding support from medical professionals, mothers like Mariana can become educated on ways to prevent their child’s cleft condition from impacting their ability to feed and breathe properly.
By the time she was old enough for surgery, Sabine was thriving.
Worry transformed into hope as Sabine received a comprehensive health evaluation from highly trained Operation Smile Mexico medical volunteers. While attending the Puebla program, Mariana took solace in the fact that she wasn’t alone. Many parents like her and Ricardo were seeking treatment for their children’s cleft conditions.
Then Sabine’s name was called.
As Mariana watched her daughter be taken into the operating room, she found comfort in being surrounded by mothers and fathers who were experiencing similar feelings of anticipation and uncertainty.
After a surgery that can take as few as 45 minutes to complete, Sabine was back in her mother’s arms. Looking at her daughter’s beautiful new smile, Mariana felt as though she was seeing Sabine for the first time.
She began imagining what her daughter’s future would be like now that surgery had irrevocably changed Sabine’s life.
Unlike many patients born with cleft lip and cleft palate, Sabine received surgery at 6 months old. She will likely never experience the challenges that too many children living with untreated cleft conditions can endure, including damaging infections, potential impairment to her speech and dental development, and the harmful psychological effects of bullying and social isolation.
As Mariana reflected on Sabine’s cleft care journey, she shared a message for the people who helped them along the way.
“Thank you, Operation Smile,” she said.
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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.