A Journey Down the Amazon: Kalebe’s Story

Smile Train

Jeane and her son Kalebe are from Tabatinga, a Ribeirinho “river people” village, in the Brazilian Amazon. When Kalebe was born with a bilateral cleft lip, Jeane said that she was surprised. She was just happy that he was alive. The pregnancy had many complications and Kalebe had barely survived.

cleft lip

Jeane was concerned that her son wouldn’t be able to access medical services in her remote village, but village local health services assured her that she could take Kalebe to the city of Manaus for treatment when he was three months old. However; the family waited for more than two years – it seemed that the village health services had forgotten about them.

cleft lip

After two long years of waiting, Jeane found out about Smile Train partner Hospital Geral Benjamin Constant doing year-round free cleft surgery. Jeane immediately made arrangements to take Kalebe to the hospital and Smile Train helped to provide free transportation to get them there.

cleft lip

The only way for Jeane and Kalebe to get to Smile Train’s partner hospital from their remote village was on a three hour speed boat ride. During the trip, Jeane admitted she would cry all night long from the anxiety of not being able to get Kalebe the help he needed. Her biggest concern was that people would not accept her son; worse, that they’d make unkind remarks and jokes at his expense.

cleft lip

Once Jeane saw the local doctors greeting them from Benjamin Constant all of her anxiety disappeared. She felt extremely happy that the day had finally come for Kalebe to get help and her eyes filled with tears. After years of waiting Jeane finally felt reassured that her son was in good hands.

cleft lip

Smile Train’s local partner surgeon Dr Sá spoke with Jeane as part of his efforts to evaluate Kalebe’s health and his readiness for surgery.

cleft lip

Jeane admires her son’s face once the surgery is over, and smiles quietly to herself. She is delighted with the results.

cleft lip

As Kalebe’s great-grandfather comes to admire him back home in Tabatinga, Jeane says that she and her family are pleased with the progress that he’s been making following his surgery. They are relieved that people will now look at him in a new light, and that they’ll accept him for who he is.

cleft lip

She says, “Holding him now, I feel so very happy,” Jeane adds that she hopes that Kalebe will one day become a doctor. “I would love it if he could give the same opportunity to others that he’s just received,” she explains.

All text written by Robin Wyatt and all images © Robin Wyatt Vision: robinwyatt.org/photography | robin@robinwyatt.org.

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