Skip to main content
We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Beast Philanthropy!
Watch the Video

Patient Story Bolivia

A Radio Announcement Reaches This Hopeful Family

Patient Story Bolivia

A Radio Announcement Reaches This Hopeful Family

Here is 14-month-old Damian before surgery with his mom, Nora. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Nora received three prenatal ultrasounds before her son, Damian, was born.

After each appointment, doctors told Nora that everything was progressing well, and she continued to become more eager to meet her son. But when that day finally arrived, Nora saw what the ultrasounds didn’t.

Damian was born with a cleft lip. 

Before handing Damian to Nora, the medical team calmly explained how Damian would need surgery. 

Nora held her son in her arms and cried, not knowing what the future would hold.

At 23 years old, Nora worked hard to provide for her family. She worked as a nanny for two children in her neighborhood in addition to caring for her own. With an unwavering love for her daughter and son, Nora felt ready to overcome any obstacle in her way of helping Damian. 

It is imperative for children like Damian to receive proper nourishment and support early in life. Damian received pre-surgical dental care that helped him feed during the vital developmental months leading up to surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

With encouragement from her doctor, Nora and her partner, Alexander, took Damian to the Children’s Hospital in Santa Cruz. Having also been born with a cleft palate, Damian was fitted with an obturator, a device that improves a patient’s ability to feed and breathe.

But after paying the cost of the obturator, Nora and Alexander quickly came to a heartbreaking realization. 

The expenses often associated with cleft care were already piling up, and they feared that the cost of any future surgeries for Damian would be beyond their means. 

Nora learned about an organization – unaffiliated with Operation Smile – providing cleft surgeries when Damian was 2 months old.

This was the first time Nora and Alexander felt hopeful that they’d found a solution for their son. But that hope was soon lost. After traveling with Damian to the site, they were turned away and told that Damian’s hemoglobin levels were too low for him to receive surgery. 

Nora and Alexander returned home disappointed, but with the support of their family, friends and neighbors by their side, they refused to let this stop them from continuing their search. 

They were committed to finding a solution that would provide Damian with the care he needed. 

During a 2018 Operation Smile Bolivia surgical program, Nora and Damian, right, wait for care alongside four other patients and parents. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

One year later, Nora heard an announcement on the radio promoting Operation Smile Bolivia.

She discovered that the organization provides free reconstructive cleft surgery and related care for children like Damian. She also learned from the radio announcement that just a few days later, a team of trained medical volunteers would be holding a surgical program in Santa Cruz – a 90-minute bus ride from their home. 

In that moment, Nora and Alexander knew this was their chance. 

One of the first observations the family made after reaching the program site was how many other families had arrived with their children who looked like their son.

They immediately felt safe and respected by the Operation Smile volunteers. It became clear to Nora that they had found an organization that truly cared about the people they serve. 

During child life, Operation Smile medical volunteers perform therapeutic play with patients like Damian by showing them surgical equipment like anesthesia masks. This helps patients become familiar with what they will see while in the operating room. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
In the operating room, the volunteer surgical team including cleft surgeon Dr. Carlos Hugo Dorado of Bolivia perform cleft lip surgery on Damian. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Following a comprehensive health evaluation from pediatricians, anesthesiologists, nutritionists and other volunteers, Damian was cleared for his cleft lip operation. When the schedule was announced and Damian’s name was on the list, Nora began to imagine what her son’s future would look like after receiving a surgery would undoubtedly change his life. 

When Nora and Alexander saw their son’s new smile, it was a moment they knew they’d never forget. 

Nora and Damian are reunited after his cleft lip surgery. This was the moment when Nora knew his life had been forever changed for the better. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

Months later, the family returned to an Operation Smile Bolivia program for Damian’s cleft palate surgery.

Returning home after a successful operation, Damian’s life was transformed. 

Nora, Damian and his dad, Alexander, share their smiles seven months after Damian received his cleft lip surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

One day, while Damian was spending time with his parents and grandparents, members of the Operation Smile team stopped by to check in on how the family was doing. 

Nora and Alexander shared that since receiving his surgeries, Damian is now eating and breathing better than before. Today, Damian is a very happy boy with a big personality and a huge smile. 

When Nora was asked if she wanted to share a message with the people who had helped change Damian’s life, she said, “I would thank them a lot because my son will be able to smile.”

Damian, today. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.

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.