In 2017, Smile Train Ambassador Kylie Jenner and her mother, Kris, visited our partners and patients in Lima, Peru — including meeting our recent patient Mia and her mother, Luz, in their home. We recently caught up with the family and Luz shared their story.
We found out Mia would have a cleft one month before she was born. Hearing the news was painful — of course it was — but before I could even shed one tear, my doctor told me, “Stay calm because there is a surgery she can receive that will heal her while she’s still a baby.”
That was nice for him to say, but I couldn’t stay calm. Where could my baby get this surgery? Even if I found it, my family struggles to make ends meet — how would we ever afford it? The doctor said nothing about any of this. Though so much inside of me wanted to cry and collapse into a heap of worry, I had to be strong so I could seek help for my little girl. I started asking around, looking for answers, and thankfully, it didn’t take long until a relative of my brother-in-law’s told me there was a place right in Lima, Mision Caritas Felices (MCF), where she could receive the care she needed completely free thanks to an organization called Smile Train. I didn’t know how it would work and it sounded too good to be true, but I had to take the chance for my baby. I reached out to them on Facebook and they responded right away and made an appointment for me to bring Mia in for an evaluation once we came home from the hospital.
When Mia was born and I saw her cleft, I felt that panic again. But this time, at least, I knew I wasn’t alone and that gave me strength. I was still unsure of what to expect when we made our first visit to MCF together, but as soon as we walked through the door, the entire staff greeted us like family and gave me materials on how to best feed my baby. That’s when I allowed myself to believe that people really can be this kind to strangers, that this really wasn’t too good to be true. My feeling grew warmer when we were led to the examination room and the doctor gave me the best news I’ve ever received: Mia met all the health requirements to have her free cleft surgery when she turned six months old, one of the earliest possible times. He scheduled us right then and there.
Though I’ve learned that many babies with clefts struggle to eat and put on weight, Mia, thankfully, continued to eat well and stay healthy because only her lip had a cleft and not her palate.
A few weeks before Mia’s surgery, Dianne Erquiaga, Smile Train’s Program Director for South America, called to give me the second biggest shock of my life: Kylie and Kris Jenner would be visiting MCF the day of Mia’s surgery and wanted to meet her.
Well, how could I say no to that?
The women were kind and gentle with my baby and really seemed to be pulling for her success. I felt we shared a true moment of connection when they came home with us after Mia was discharged, and it was a something my family will never forget.
Mia had no complications after the surgery. She ate with a good appetite and continued to grow up healthy and strong. Today, she plays well with her older brothers and is a good sharer. She is also a fast learner and loves school — when the pandemic came, she adapted to virtual school like it was nothing. And she’s only four years old!
As a mom who knows the panic that comes with learning your baby will have a cleft, I encourage other mothers receiving the news to be strong and to try their best to move forward. Clefts are not a disease, they can be overcome; and if you ask for help, you will find it, like my family did from Smile Train. Above all else, though you may feel helpless, you must keep calm and focus on getting your child what she needs to get ahead and be healthy.
Thank you, Smile Train.
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