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Patient Story Guatemala

A Mother’s Love Overcomes Unexpected Challenges

Ethan, 11 months old, smiles before surgery during a 2018 surgical mission in Guatemala City. Photo: Carlos Rueda.

When Dayrim and Ethan departed from their local hospital in Guatemala City, feelings of hopelessness emerged.

Four times she had traveled to the hospital feeling optimistic that her 11-month-old son, Ethan, would finally undergo his cleft lip surgery. Four times his surgery was postponed. 

Determined to give her son the life she imagined for him, Dayrim often reflected on how much she and Ethan had overcome together. 

By that point in his short life, Ethan had spent much of his time in hospitals surrounded by doctors and medical equipment. 

From the moment Ethan was born, Dayrim became well-versed in fearing for her son’s health. Her due date hadn’t yet arrived when Dayrim was suddenly rushed to the hospital. Two months prior to when he was expected, Ethan entered the world. 

Worry for her premature baby filled Dayrim with anxiety and uncertainty, which only intensified when she saw his smile for the first time. 

Although it was never detected in any prenatal ultrasounds, Ethan was born with a cleft lip and would spend the next two months in the pediatric intensive care unit fighting for his life. 

Photo: Carlos Rueda.

Over the course of those few months, Dayrim watched as Ethan began growing stronger and becoming healthier each day. Looking at Ethan, one would never have known that he’d previously needed help breathing due to his underdeveloped lungs.

Medical staff at the local hospital first told Dayrim that surgery to repair Ethan’s cleft lip would be possible when he was 3 months old.

Leaving the hospital after a fourth unsuccessful attempt at surgery, Ethan was close to turning 1 year old, but Dayrim didn’t feel any closer to getting him the cleft care he needed. 

Then one day, a neighbor shared a story that altered the course of Ethan and Dayrim’s lives. She was told that they also had a child with a cleft condition who received life-changing surgery through Operation Smile Guatemala at no cost to their family.

Upon seeing her neighbor’s child, Dayrim’s outlook on her son’s future became brighter, and she recognized that she wasn’t alone.

At the same mission that Dayrim and Ethan attended, Dashley, her mom and dozens of other families arrived to a 2018 Operation Smile surgical mission in Guatemala City with the hope that they would receive life-changing cleft care. Photo: Carlos Rueda.

Their journey toward care and a better life for Ethan finally had an end in sight.

Immediately, Dayrim contacted Operation Smile Guatemala and traveled to a local clinic where medical volunteers told her a surgical mission was taking place the following month. 

This time, nothing was standing in her way, and Dayrim’s fifth attempt at getting Ethan cleft surgery proved successful.  

During the mission, Ethan underwent a comprehensive medical evaluation and was deemed healthy enough for surgery. With her son’s new smile, Dayrim felt ready to start focusing on Ethan’s promising and happier future.

Ethan and Dayrim pose for a picture seven months after his successful cleft lip surgery from Operation Smile Guatemala. Photo: Carlos Rueda.

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.