Having a child with a cleft condition can be an isolating experience for many parents. Fear and uncertainty make some families try to hide their children from the world, believing they are the only people enduring those hardships. Meet Wesilyn, Lorrane and Jhone, three patients whose lives changed after attending an Operation Smile Brazil surgical program. These three families have different stories, but each journey converged in Santarem, Brazil.
Jersiane knew she had to be strong for her son, Wesilyn.
The burden of having a child with a cleft lip became too much for Wesilyn’s father to bear, and he decided to abandon his family, leaving Jersiane to raise Wesilyn by herself. But she refused to give up.
Jersiane was told at the hospital that surgery was possible for Wesilyn through an organization called Operation Smile Brazil. She was determined to persevere and get her son the cleft care he needed. Their journey to Santarem was an exhausting 6-hour boat ride from their home. But the trip was worth it once she saw other children like Wesilyn. However, seeing those families also made Jersiane sad because she recognized that many of the parents she saw had likely experienced the same fear and uncertainty she went through.
Following a comprehensive health evaluation, medical volunteers determined that Wesilyn was healthy enough to undergo cleft surgery. Jersaine was overwhelmed with emotion, and she struggled to hold on to the surgery confirmation letter due to how hard her hands were shaking. Her dream was coming true.
The next day, Jersaine nervously waited while Wesilyn was in surgery. She trusted the volunteers to care for her son, but she couldn’t help feeling anxious about what was going on in the operating room. Those thoughts disappeared and were replaced with relief when volunteers placed Wesilyn into her arms. Jersaine was speechless seeing her son for the first time. Upon returning home, friends, family and neighbors came to visit and complimented Wesilyn’s new smile.
“All I can say is thank you,” Jersaine said.
As Wesilyn continues to grow older, many people don’t believe he was born with a cleft condition. Jersaine carries a photo of Wesilyn before surgery so they can witness and understand the impact one operation had on her son.
Gisele’s prenatal ultrasound didn’t detect that her daughter, Lorrane, would be born with a cleft lip.
This made seeing Lorrane’s cleft condition for the first time significantly more shocking and worrisome for Gisele and her mom, María José. Both women felt sad and uncertain about Lorrane’s future.
While still in the hospital, María José was told about Operation Smile Brazil and its team of medical professionals who provide free reconstructive surgery to children like Lorrane. To ensure Lorrane remained healthy until she was old enough to safely undergo surgery, her doctor connected them to Dr. Jocivan Pedroso, an Operation Smile Brazil volunteer. Through the support and counseling of Jocivan, María José learned to care for her granddaughter and made sure Lorrane was fully registered with Operation Smile Brazil.
While some neighbors were supportive and kind, Gisele and María José still received stares and overheard negative comments when they were out in public with Lorrane. More than anything, María José wanted Lorrane to live a happy life without the stigma that is often associated with having a cleft condition.
Finally, it was time for María José to travel with Lorrane to Santarem for her medical evaluation, bringing her one step closer to surgery. Seeing the large number of other families hoping their child would receive care at the surgical program made María José anxious. But her anxiety transformed into joy when she learned that Lorrane was scheduled to undergo surgery on the first day. Their lives changed forever when María José saw Lorrane for the first time after surgery.
“I always loved her, but now she looks perfect,” María José said. “Congratulations Operation Smile, my granddaughter is beautiful thanks to the doctors.”
Back home, neighbors and friends were amazed to see Lorrane’s new smile. Gisele and María José shared that they enjoy taking Lorrane into their community because the hurtful comments and stares have stopped.
Before Jhone was born, his mom, Leudiane, had never seen another person with a cleft lip.
At first, Leudiane believed that she was the only mother who had a baby born with a cleft condition. Doctors not only reassured her that she wasn’t alone but that her son’s cleft lip could be repaired through Operation Smile Brazil.
But Leudiane’s relief to this news soon faltered during her first attempt to breastfeed Jhone.
Each time she tried to feed him, Jhone struggled to drink. For hours, doctors were confused as to why he was having so much difficulty. They eventually realized that in addition to his cleft lip, Jhone was also born with a cleft palate. Leudiane feared for his future and worried that her friends and family would not accept him. She was initially ashamed to take Jhone out in public and show him to the other members of her community.
However, those worries lessened once Leudiane saw how her family loved and accepted Jhone when they saw him for the first time. But that didn’t lesson the guilt she felt.
Shortly after Jhone’s birth, his family made their first 16-hour journey to Santarem. Since Jhone was too young to undergo cleft surgery at that time, Dr. Jocivan Pedroso, an Operation Smile volunteer, counseled Leudiane and her husband, Leandro, on how to feed and care for a baby with a cleft condition. From that first visit, Leudiane knew that her son was in good hands, and every month for the next seven months, she made the long journey to Santarem for Jhone’s check-ups with Jocivan.
Finally, at 8 months old, Leudiane made the 16-hour journey once more. But this time, it was to meet the medical volunteers who would perform Jhone’s and countless other patients’ health evaluations. Leudiane realized just how isolated she had been to think she was the only mother with a child with a cleft condition. Jhone was cleared and scheduled for surgery.
“Thank you for our Operation Smile experience,” Leudiane said after seeing his new smile. “Our son’s surgery was the best thing that has ever happened to us.”