Sucre, Bolivia– Rodolpho Picha Picón recently received a belated first birthday gift that he will never remember, but will change his life forever: free cleft lip surgery.
Rodolpho was born on May 11, 2010 to Nicholas and Marcelina Picón, rural farmers who have never learned to read or write. After three days of labor, Marcelina held her third child in her arms unable to comprehend what was wrong with her baby. Nicholas and Marcelina argued at the cause of Rodolpho’s disfiguring cleft lip and palate thinking that it was a curse brought down upon them for something that they had done. Nicholas shunned his newborn son realizing how hard it would be for the family to feed and take care of him alongside Rodolpho’s healthy older sibling. At one point even wishing that Rodolpho died so that he could focus on taking care of the rest of his family.
Not knowing that clefts are birth defects, Marcelina clung to her son, desperate to find a way to help him. Aided by her other children, Marcelina prevailed on Nicholas to accept his son and to journey to the capital city to find help. At the hospital in Sucre, Nicholas was given bittersweet news, Rodolpho’s cleft was curable with a simple surgery, but the surgery cost more money than he could ever hope to afford. He returned with a renewed spirit to help care for Rodolpho, and together with Marcelina, they decided that somehow they would save enough money for the surgery, even if it took fifty years.
A month later, a miracle happened. After getting off of an extra job as a mason, Nicholas met a stranger and they struck up a conversation, which culminated in the revelation that the cleft surgery Rodolpho needed was being done for free through Smile Train partner Esperanza Bolivia. Nicholas and Marcelina brought Rodolpho to the hospital and were show pictures of other cleft patients that had received free cleft surgery. Tears filled their eyes as they realized that Rodolpho now had a chance at a normal life. Rodolpho came out of general anesthesia with a newly repaired cleft lip. He is currently scheduled to receive cleft palate surgery once he regains his strength. His parents are eager to see him safely through his second surgery and get started with his life.