New Smile, New Life in America: Poppy’s Story

Poppy and her father and siblings.

Poppy and her father and siblings.

Several months ago Smile Train supporter, Kristina Lu, adopted her daughter, Poppy, from China. Poppy was born with a cleft palate, but thanks to Smile Train was able to receive free surgery. In her own words Kristina shares her story.

My husband read about Smile Train from the chapter in FreakonomicsTM soon after the book came out.  We liked the way they ran their charity and we became donors for several years. We liked how Smile Train helps teach local doctors how to repair clefts instead of just flying in, doing some surgeries, and then heading home.  It’s the whole “teach a man to fish” philosophy.

In 2013, we decided to add a third child to our family via adoption from China. We decided to adopt from China because my husband is an American of Chinese ethnicity.  We thought that a child adopted from China would blend in well with our biracial family. We also knew we wanted to adopt a special needs child.  Although we were open to different types of special needs, we were most comfortable with adopting a child with cleft lip/palate – some of our comfort coming from knowing about Smile Train and your mission.

We were matched by our adoption agency with our daughter Poppy, who lived in Pingliang, Gansu, China.  After we came home with Poppy in June 2014, Smile Train was extremely helpful in providing us with the medical records that they had on her.

Poppy is doing really well now!  She’s been home 6 months and it’s as if she’s always been a part of our family.  She is best friends with her older sister and she adores her older brother.  She’s loving gymnastics class and she enjoys singing and dancing at home.  She loves playing with her (and her siblings’) Legos. She was very excited to dress up as Princess Anna from Frozen for Halloween this year.  She tells everyone that will listen that she was Anna.

In the age of Facebook and social media, we were able to find Poppy’s connection with Smile Train and Love Without Boundaries.  We were also able to connect with the parents of one of Poppy’s best friends in the orphanage (who also had her cleft surgery through Smile Train in Kunming at the same time) through Facebook.  Her friend was adopted by a family in St. Louis.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we visited my family in Illinois and we were able to make a side-trip to St. Louis to have dinner with her friend and her family.  At first, they were a little unsure of each other, then they took off like no time had passed since they had been together in Pingliang 6 months earlier.

We found it very touching to see that an organization that we learned about more than a decade ago has directly benefitted our daughter.  Thank you Smile Train for helping Poppy and all the children that you affect.

Poppy and Leslie at the orphanage in China.

Poppy and Leslie at the orphanage in China.

Poppy and Leslie in St. Louis.

Poppy and Leslie in St. Louis.

From Brooklyn to Brazil: A Transformational Journey

Jacob (on the right, in a Smile Train shirt) with Maria Emanuela & her family.

Jacob (on the right, in a Smile Train shirt) with Maria Emanuela & her family.

Guest blogger and Smile Train staff member, Jacob, shares his experience meeting Smile Train patient, Maria Emanuela, on his most recent trip to Brazil.

Recife, Brazil –My name is Jacob. I’m the Associate, Special Projects and Assistant to the CEO and have worked at Smile Train for almost two years. Recently, I was given the opportunity to go to Brazil to visit our local in-country Smile Train partners and patients. I speak Portuguese, so I relished the opportunity to speak directly with patients and families without the need of a translator. This story is about my visit with a little girl named Maria Emanuela who received her free surgery four years ago thanks to our local Smile Train partners in Brazil.

We met Maria Emanuela’s father, Jobson, at a public square and were led through a maze of unpaved one-way streets, some of which had huge puddles of water and mud to navigate through. After ten minutes, I wondered if we would even be able to find our way out or even if we would be able to turn the car around.

Fortunately, after some struggle, we were able to find the house. We were greeted by Girlene, Maria Emanuela’s mother, and asked to come in as she hugged us and thanked us for visiting. Then I finally got to meet Maria Emanuela, although at first she was more interested in eating cake with her sister than meeting the strangers in her house. Soon, she began to show us to her bedroom and her collection of dolls.

I returned the family’s hospitality with a care package from a special Smile Train donor that had a lot of neat things for kids: a coloring book, bracelets, crayons, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, a small mirror, among other fun things that kids would enjoy. Maria Emanuela and her sister took to coloring immediately. Maria Emanuela promised that she would brush her teeth every day.

As a final gift we brought a picture of Maria Emanuela before her surgery, something that the family did not have. The child in the photo was almost unrecognizable to her parents, and we learned that the family sought treatment within seven days of Maria Emanuela being born. They said they had never seen anyone with a cleft lip before and were very relieved when they arrived at our Smile Train partner hospital, Center of the Care of Facial Defects at IMIP, to find other families and patients just like them. Our Smile Train partners talked to the family about how common cleft births actually are and the importance of following up with Maria Emanuela’s treatment schedule for a full recovery.

As we wrapped up our visit with Guaraná, a Brazilian soft drink, and some cake the family agreed to take some family photos outside the house as a way to remember the experience. We thanked them for their hospitality and started down the street. We had already walked down the street when to our surprise both Maria Emanuela and her sister came running up to me and my colleague with a request; they wanted us to write our names down on a piece of paper so they could always remember us!

To see a child with that much confidence, a child who when born was in need of so much help, who could have been left on the fringes of society merely for the fact that she was born with a cleft lip, to see that child running and smiling and courageous, is something that I will never forget. It put so many things in perspective about not only what Smile Train did for that little girl, but what Smile Train did for her family and her community.

Maria holding her before picture

Maria holding a picture of herself before her surgery.

 

 

Overcoming Adversity: International Day of People with Disabilities Story

Mast before

Mast & his parents before surgery

When Maya Milind Sonsale gave birth to her son, Mast Sangharsh Milind Sonsale, she was shocked, and immediately saddened to discover that he not only suffered from a cleft lip and palate, but also congenital blindness. When her husband saw Mast for the first time, he was so furious that he stormed off, leaving Mast and Maya at Maya’s parents’ house. Maya was upset, because she knew her husband was not the only person who would have that reaction to Mast. During the first four years of Mast’s life, the people in their community did not accept him because of his cleft. Maya also felt that because of his blindness it was even more difficult for him to form bonds with others, including her.

Maya discovered Smile Train when reading the newspaper and found an advertisement for the organization. She was so relieved to hear that Mast could receive free treatment, because there was no chance she could afford the surgery by herself. It took eight hours by car to get to the hospital, but Maya knew the long trip was more than worth it. Now, after the surgery, Mast’s father has returned to his child and wife. Maya now says that they are a happy family. Now that Mast’s cleft is repaired, and the family is reunited, they can work together to help Mast cope with his blindness.

mast after

Mast & his parents after surgery

100 Miles for 100 Smiles

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Ultramarathon runner David Coligado recently completed a 24-hour, 100 mile treadmill run in an effort to raise enough funds for 100 Smile Train cleft surgeries. David’s girlfriend Mary recounts his motivations and experience in completing this incredible feat.


I cannot convey in words how inspiring and memorable this weekend has been. Thank you from the deepest depths of my heart for all of your efforts to support Dave since the conception of this crazy idea. You are tops in my book.

I wanted to share but a few highlights from the weekend that will stay with me always:

Chicago police officers driving by the Lululemon store raising their hands in support of Dave.

Midnight: lights off. A glow in the dark sticks/dance workout that illuminated the room. Dave on the treadmill. DJ spinning tunes.

3 AM: twerk-off/dance off :)

4 AM: a group of about 80 people singing Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and George Michael’s “Freedom” in unison with Dave while he ran.

A maxillofacial surgeon and a craniofacial surgeon, both in town for a conference, saw the story on the news. They walked in to Lululemon, each donating $500 in cash in support of Smile Train.

People holding up the pictures Smile Train provided of the kids and adults in the window every hour and during Dave’s few moments of struggle. They were also posted all around him throughout the run and brought more than a few people to tears.

The security guard, a total machismo, south side old school Chicago kinda guy, singing along with us and crying when Dave hit his 100 miles.

Between the hours of 1 AM-4 AM: drunk people on the street walking by confused and slack jawed upon hearing the DJ blasting music, Dave running on the treadmill, and all of us dancing, working out, and singing, with the store doors wide open welcoming all to join us. Several of them digging in their pockets to contribute whatever crumpled up dollar bills they had left.

8:30 AM: as we were cleaning and the treadmills were being hauled away, a man, who saw the story on the news, walked in and handed Dave $250 in cash for Smile Train. He offered his congratulations, and walked out.

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…Certainly one of the most memorable 24 hours of our lives. Thank you to ALL of the folks at Smile Train for their efforts to make this idea a reality.

It’s easy to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the fundraising event, but the children who will ultimately benefit from the money raised have been at the forefront of our minds throughout.

Still delirious from this weekend’s event, Dave and I hobbled to the kitchen this morning, seeking coffee. We stopped to take a detailed look at the piles of photos that lay on our counter. Moving images of children and adults from clinics around the world holding up signs of thanks and support for Dave. We talked about what a collaboration it must have been to collect such an inspirational tribute. We were balling. Consider us lifelong Smile Train supporters and advocates.

With love and gratitude,
Mary Oleszek


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Smile Train Team EMPOWER gives athletes around the world the opportunity to make every step, every lap and every mile count toward giving a child not only a new smile, but a second chance at life.

World Kindness Day Story

Lisbeth before surgery, 6 months old

Lisbeth before surgery, 6 months old

Two years ago, Lynn Macaulay was volunteering in El Salvador when she met a young couple whose daughter, Lisbeth, was born with a cleft lip and palate. Lisbeth’s parents couldn’t afford cleft surgery, or any of the other related medical expenses. Lynn decided to take action and find a way to get young Lisbeth the surgery she needed.

After raising money in her community, Lynn reached out to the local government and nonprofits who suggested that she contact Smile Train. Smile Train’s Regional Manager of the Americas, Pam Sheeran, explained that Smile Train works with local cleft teams around the world and provides them with grants so that families like Lisbeth’s don’t have to pay for such care.

Lynn was thrilled to hear that baby Lisbeth would be able to receive the surgery, and she insisted that she donate the amount needed to cover the costs of Lisbeth’s surgery, and help others in the area. Thanks to Lynn’s generosity, and desire to help, Lisbeth is now a happy and healthy two-year-old. She has had both her surgeries and now is able to properly eat solid food, and of course, smile.

Lisbeth after surgery, 2 years old

Lisbeth after surgery, 2 years old

Coping With My Daughter’s Cleft

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Dehradun, India – Manoj Sagar, whose daughter, Tezi, was born with cleft lip and palate, shares his story of how he initially reacted to his daughter’s cleft, and how Smile Train was able to help him find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

My wife did not see the child, Tezi, immediately after birth as she was exhausted by labor. I was the first person in the family to see that my child was born with a deformity. I was immediately shocked, overwhelmed, and terrified. My hands and feet trembled and my throat became parched. I felt that God had cursed me by giving me such a monstrous child. I did not know what to do.

I was so overcome with sorrow that even when a local doctor informed me about the Himalayan Institute where Smile Train could fix Tezi’s cleft for free I was still in denial that the cleft could be cured. It wasn’t until I saw the transformation with my own eyes through similar patients who underwent surgery at the Himalayan Institute that I had a slight change of heart.

We are lucky because we live only a few minutes from the hospital, so I was able to take Tezi there without any difficulty. After a quick 45-minute surgery that was free of charge I was completely relieved to see my daughter turn from a monstrous child into an angel. Now that the swelling from the surgery has gone down, no one can say that she has ever had a facial deformity. Thanks to Smile Train my darling girl is free to lead a normal life full of self-esteem.

10th Annual Hot Lips Hustle 5K

First runner to finish hot lips hustle 5K.

Marietta, GA—Hundreds of runners and walkers raised over $6,000 for Smile Train at the 10th Annual Hot Lips Hustle 5K on Saturday, September 20. The Hustle was founded in 2004 by Ryan Ernstes, a 12-year-old girl who was born with a cleft. Now 22, Ryan is still committed to helping other children who were born with the same birth defect.

Besides raising enough money to fund 24 new smiles, the event was a fun family affair, with even dogs participating. Many people came dressed in silly costumes and wigs and there was a live DJ, lip tattoos, an ice cream bar, and great food. There were trophies for the top finishers (even for the top dog racers), and all entrants were entered into free prize drawings, but Ryan believes that the greatest prize of all was being able to give a child a new smile and a new start at life. Over the past 10 years the Hot Lips Hustle 5K has contributed to 366 surgeries for children all over the world, changing their lives forever.

Runners during the race.

Runners during the race.