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Patient Story China

Meet Our Patients: Wen Ting and Xiang Cui

Meet Wen Ting

During a 2016 Operation Smile surgical program, 1-year-old Wen Ting and her family arrived in Wenshan, China, hopeful that cleft surgery was in her future. Photo: Peter Stuckings.

During prenatal ultrasound appointments, feelings of excitement and love often fill the hearts of the parents. 

But for Fei and his wife, Mei, what should’ve been a joyous celebration turned grim in a matter of seconds. The day they learned their daughter, Wen Ting, would be born with a cleft lip and palate was a moment neither would forget.

Months later, after Wen Ting’s birth, village leaders came to see her.

Lacking access to education on the potential causes and treatment of cleft conditions, the leaders told Fei that Wen Ting’s cleft condition was a punishment for a sin that the family committed. Deepening the family’s fear, the elders also believed that Wen Ting would live with her cleft lip for the rest of her life. 

Despite various misconceptions surrounding cleft conditions, Fei never let the village leaders’ words scare him or stop him from seeking a solution. 

His hope that Wen Ting wouldn’t live the rest of her life with the burden of an unrepaired cleft condition deepened after a doctor shared that surgery was possible.

But until he found a solution, Fei continued to work diligently at his construction job in Guandong, which was two hours away from home. It pained Fei to leave Wen Ting, but it was his only way of helping the family earn enough money to afford the surgery she needed. 

During most of the year while Fei's away, Wen Ting is raised by her grandparents in their rural village. Living in an area famous for tea, the family earns a living by growing tea, pine trees and rice. 

Although the family makes a comfortable income, affording surgery for Wen Ting remained out of reach.

A year passed before their future changed in an instant. The solution they’d searched for arrived after learning about Operation Smile China and the free cleft care it provides to children like Wen Ting. 

Determined to be by his daughter’s side, Fei returned home and took a five-hour bus ride with Wen Ting to reach the surgical program site. 

Upon arriving, Fei realized that the village leaders had been wrong. Surrounded by countless children and families affected by cleft conditions, Fei knew that he wasn’t to blame for Wen Ting’s cleft lip and palate. But more importantly to Fei, her smile could be repaired through surgery. 

After passing her comprehensive medical evaluation and being added to the surgical schedule, Wen Ting entered the operating room with the team of local medical volunteers and walked out with a brighter future. 

When Fei and Wen Ting returned home following her successful surgery, many members of their community were thrilled to see her new smile. 

“I just wanted my daughter to live a good life,” Fei said. “I’m very grateful for what Operation Smile did for my child and my family and for all the other families.”

Wen Ting, after surgery. Photo: Jorgen Hildebrandt.

Meet Xiang Cui

After living 42 years with an unrepaired cleft condition, Xiang Cui was ready for the surgery that would transform her life during a 2016 Operation Smile surgical program in China. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

For 42 years, Xiang Cui spent her life carrying the pain of living with an unrepaired cleft condition. 

Although she believed that no solution existed to repair her smile, she refused to let the thought of always living with a cleft lip prevent her from seeking happiness. 

Xiang Cui found love and raised five beautiful children with her husband. But even with the support and acceptance of her family, Xiang Cui still often found herself feeling alone. 

Worldwide, it’s estimated that every three minutes, a child is born with a cleft condition. And due to barriers that often prevent access to timely cleft care, people like Xiang Cui can live their entire lives enduring unfair treatment and painful isolation, never knowing that treatment is possible. 

When Xiang Cui first learned about Operation Smile China, she only knew that it was an organization recognized for helping people like herself and that there was an upcoming surgical program taking place not far from her home. Placing her faith in Operation Smile, Xiang Cui bravely set off with her sister-in-law, unsure of what they’d find once they reached the mission site. 

After arriving, Xiang Cui was stunned. 

Surrounded by groups of people who’d most likely experienced the similar struggles and pain she’d endured, Xiang Cui finally felt like she wasn’t alone.

Throughout screening and her comprehensive health evaluation, she was cared for by a team of volunteer medical professionals whose kindness and compassion were a stark contrast to how members of Xiang Cui’s community had treated her. 

Learning that she was healthy enough for her life-changing surgery, Xiang Cui began to imagine a new future for herself. Upon returning home, her children were amazed to see their mom’s transformation.

For the first time in a long time, Xiang Cui no longer wanted to hide her smile. 

Xiang Cui, after surgery. Photo: Zute Lightfoot.

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.

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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.