Andrea holds her 2-month-old son, Kyungmin, as they both wait to receive their comprehensive health evaluations during screening day at Operation Smile Peru’s May 2019 surgical program in Lima, Peru. The international program marked a major milestone for Operation Smile by recognizing the 20th anniversary of when the organization first began providing cleft surgery in the country. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Pediatrician Dr. Raquel Delgado of Peru performs a comprehensive health evaluation on a young patient to determine if they are healthy enough to receive safe surgery. Representing 16 countries from across Latin America and around the world, devoted and skilled volunteer medical professionals united together and provided screenings for 259 potential patients. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Medical records volunteer Annika Brandin of Sweden stops for a moment to make a young patient smile during the busy and fast-paced environment of the program. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
After a 30-hour journey, 38-year-old Andrea arrived at the surgical program with her husband, Santos, her younger brother, Juan Carlos, and her daughter, Liz. She had hoped that her son, Kyungmin, would receive a life-changing surgery, but medical volunteers informed her that he was too young.
Growing up, Andrea was the second eldest of nine children and lived in the small, remote area of La Libertad. There were no other families or homes nearby, so Andrea’s siblings were her only friends. This allowed her to avoid the harmful teasing and bullying that many children with cleft conditions can face. However, due to the isolation of her home, Andrea never attended school.
Eight years ago, Andrea's first child died when he was only 10 days old. Three years later, Andrea met and married her now-husband, Santos, and they had their first child together; a son named Nelson. When Nelson was born, both Andrea and Santos were concerned when they saw his cleft lip. They became even more frightened when Nelson was unable to breastfeed. In an effort to try and save their son's life, Santos and Andrea resorted to buying formula, which placed a large financial burden on the family. It was worth it because Nelson began to thrive. But sadly, at only four years old, Nelson passed away.
Already having lost a child who had a cleft, Andrea was devastated when she saw Kyungmin’s cleft lip. Thankfully, Kyungmin had no trouble breastfeeding. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Mercedes Payan of Guatemala examines a young patient during one of the surgical program screening days. Throughout this part of the screening process, medical volunteers take and record patients’ blood pressure and other vitals to ensure that they are healthy enough to undergo safe surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Ten-month-old Christopher with his mother, Heti, at the surgical program. Christopher’s father, Ezer, and Heti both have relatives with cleft, but they never imagined that it would be something that their own child would have to endure. But with the knowledge that surgery was possible and support from family and friends, Heti felt hopeful about Christopher’s future.
After learning about Operation Smile Peru and the safe surgery that it provides patients at no cost, Heti and Christopher made the long journey from their home in the Santa Clotilde district of Loreto to the surgical program site in Lima. After receiving his comprehensive health evaluation, Christopher was deemed healthy enough for safe surgery from Operation Smile Peru. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Student team member Agustina Doria of Paraguay entertains a little boy before his surgery by blowing lots of bubbles with him and his mother. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Gabriela Merino of Mexico, right, accompanied by anesthesiology resident Dr. Mathew Lake of the U.S., gently carries Christopher into the operating room where he will receive surgery to repair his cleft lip. Christopher was one out of 112 patients who received life-saving surgery during Operation Smile Peru’s surgical program. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Drs. Victor Hugo of Bolivia and Giulia Amodeo of Italy help Andrea onto the operating table where she will receive surgery on her cleft lip. Before arriving to the program, Andrea believed that Operation Smile only performed surgery on babies and young children. When she learned that the organization also treated adults, Andrea felt very happy. After 38 years of living with a cleft lip, her chance at a new and beautiful smile had come. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Volunteer surgeon Dr. Edwar Alvarez of Ecuador, center, transforms the smile of a patient during surgery. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Heti looks at Christopher’s new smile with wonder and joy after her son wakes up from his surgery. It was a beautiful moment that came after a lengthy journey. Even after traveling for nearly four days by sea in a decades-old military vessel, Heti and Christopher still had more distance ahead of them. It wasn’t until after a final place ride that the mother and son reached the program site in Lima. But for Heti, every step they took and every obstacle they overcame was worth it. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
This was Patrick at Operation Smile Peru’s May 2018 surgical program. After Patrick’s mother, Patricia, saw her baby’s cleft lip, she immediately began to investigate cleft surgery and organizations that could help heal her child. When she found Operation Smile Peru on Facebook, she called the office and made an appointment to meet with the medical team. It was there that Patricia’s hope grew for her son. Photo: Margherita Mirabella.
Here are Patrick and Patricia one year later after the two traveled to Lima for Patrick’s post-operative consultation. On the morning of Patrick’s surgery, Patricia felt both nervous and excited to see how her son would look after surgery. Later that day, Patrick was back in his mother’s loving arms with a beautiful new smile.
Once Patrick and Patricia arrived home after the 2018 mission, people in their community welcomed them back and began calling Patrick “el guapo,” which means “the handsome one.” By getting Patrick the care that he needed, Patricia was hopeful that she and her two children could begin a new life together.
“I am very grateful to you all,” Patricia said to the Operation Smile Peru medical team. “Thank you for changing my life and my child’s life.” Photo: Margherita Mirabella.