Together at a Distance

Smile Train

Twenty-six years ago, Montse was born with a cleft lip and palate. Cleft surgery was not available in her rural town in Mexico, and with five children to provide for, her mother could not easily travel to larger cities to seek the treatment her daughter needed – let alone find the means to pay for it. But Montse’s family scrimped and saved and, one year later, found a way to provide her the cleft lip surgery she so desperately needed. It would be another seven before her family could travel again for her cleft palate surgery.

School was extremely difficult for Montse, as she was constantly bullied for the way she looked. "I felt that I was alone, that I was unique in the world, and that there was no one else with this problem," she said.

Montse eventually found love with her husband, Oscar. The two moved to Mexico City and had their first daughter Abigail. Then, at a prenatal scan, Montse learned that her second daughter, Alexa, would be born with a cleft lip and palate. As Montse absorbed the news, memories of her own childhood resurfaced, and she was afraid that her future daughter would face the same bullying she had experienced.

Montse, Alexa, and Abigail

Fortunately, when Alexa was only three months old, Montse and Oscar found Smile Train partner Centro SUMA, a cleft care clinic in Mexico City. There, with support from Smile Train, Alexa received free nutritional support and surgeries for her cleft lip and palate, all at the best possible time for her health.

Now, as a healthy, thriving 4-year-old, Alexa continues to receive dental treatment and speech services. Smile Train also stepped in to support both ongoing individual psychological therapy for Montse to help her handle her trauma and group therapy so she could be with others affected by clefts.

Between work, school, and cleft care, the family had settled into a daily routine. Oscar went out every day to work in a greengrocer shop. Montse took their daughters to school, then picked them up in the afternoon to do homework together. At the end of the day, they all came together to eat dinner as a family. Once a week, Montse took Alexa to the SUMA Center for her orthodontic treatment and speech therapy sessions.

Then COVID-19 upended their world. Under quarantine, the family’s routine became very different. Alexa and her sister now do their schoolwork from a distance. The family faces economic challenges, as Oscar cannot go to work at the greengrocer — but Montse and Alexa’s need for continuing cleft care hasn’t changed.

To prevent the quarantine from affecting the progress of their patients, SUMA Center, with the support of Smile Train, has begun offering online telehealth classes and consultations. Thanks to this initiative, the whole family now receives the comprehensive care they need: Alexa still has speech therapy sessions, and Montse continues to enjoy both her weekly individual therapy and group therapy, where she can share with other parents and patients and feel that she is no longer alone. "Group therapy is wonderful. I listen to other stories and I know that I am not the only one," she shares.

This care is even more important now that Montse and Oscar are expecting their third child. Montse receives care and monitoring of her pregnancy from SUMA and was recently able to visit in person for a prenatal scan. "Despite this confinement that we are living in, they have helped us a lot," says Montse.

While COVID-19 has made much of the future uncertain, this much will always be true: Smile Train and our partners will never stop providing Montse, Alexa, and every other family affected by clefts the treatment they need — though distanced, we refuse to let anybody with a cleft feel alone.


Help ensure that we can continue to support every person and family impacted by cleft with a donation to Smile Train today.

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