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Patient Story Colombia

Laura’s Lifelong Journey of Care

Patient Story Colombia

Laura’s Lifelong Journey of Care

In an old family photo, Laura wears a surgical gown and cap before she enters the operating room. Photo courtesy of Laura’s family.

By the age of 12, Laura had undergone more surgeries than some adults have in their entire lives.

But throughout her cleft care journey, Laura found comfort and confidence during her visits to Operation Smile Colombia’s care center. 

While it has been over a decade since her first surgery with the organization, Laura’s family remembers the uncertainty and worry they felt the day she was born. 

Nancy and Jose Alejandro, Laura’s parents, were shocked to learn that their daughter was born with a cleft condition. Despite multiple prenatal ultrasounds, her cleft condition was never detected. Reflecting back on that time, Nancy realized that the doctors performing her ultrasounds could never get a clear look at Laura’s face because her hand was always covering it. At the time, it seemed insignificant. But then Jose Alejandro and Nancy saw their daughter’s smile. 

“It was my dream to have this baby,” Nancy said. “I couldn’t believe this was happening.” 

Amidst the worry that surrounded Laura’s birth, there was a glimmer of hope. Nancy’s mother-in-law, who was also born with a cleft condition, told them about Operation Smile Colombia

Although medical care is more easily accessible for families who live in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, it can also be very expensive. Nancy works as a security guard, and Jose Alejandro works as a truck driver for a recycling company. Despite her father recently receiving a promotion, Laura’s parents knew they would never be able to afford the surgeries that their daughter would need. 

At 2 days old, Laura visited the Operation Smile Colombia comprehensive care center for the first time. Laura was too young for care, but after connecting with the local volunteer medical team, it deepened her family’s hope that they had found a solution for Laura. 

When Laura was 11 months old, she received her first surgery. Her mother was elated to see her daughter’s new smile for the first time. Through her tears of happiness, Nancy expressed that she didn’t even recognize her daughter. 

“I remembered how difficult it was before surgery and how I had to feed her with a spoon, and it would go all over her chest,” she said. “Knowing that was over made be very happy.”

Operation Smile strives to not only change a child’s life, but the lives of their entire family. 

The care Operation Smile provides its patients does not end after one surgery. Our volunteer medical teams around the world provide ongoing cleft care for patients, including dental care, speech therapy and more. Photo: Rohanna Mertens.

In addition to undergoing four surgeries, Laura also received ongoing orthodontic care and speech therapy at the Operation Smile Colombia care center. Speech therapy is vital for children who were born with cleft conditions because it helps establish correct articulation and new motor speech patterns. 

Laura particularly enjoys her speech therapy sessions because she loves talking to people.

Each time she visits the care center, Laura grows more comfortable in the medical environment. When asked about the center and how it makes her feel, Laura said, “It makes me very happy.”

After her surgery, Laura continues to receive ongoing cleft care from Operation Smile Colombia's care center. Here, she is receiving orthodontic care to correct her underbite which was caused by her cleft condition. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

With the comprehensive care she has received through Operation Smile Colombia’s care center, Laura is now living a healthier and happier life with greater confidence and without the harmful stigma of having an untreated cleft lip.

Laura receives a loving kiss from her mom, Nancy. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

Laura hopes to become a veterinarian when she grows up. But her aspirations don’t stop there. 

She has many interests such as singing, photography and fashion. She is an excellent student who has grown up not letting the opinions of other children bother her. She simply tells them that she doesn’t care what they think. 

Laura’s new smile is the reason why Operation Smile diligently continues to establish more care centers and train more compassionate medical volunteers around the world.

Today, Laura is 16 years old. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

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.