A Smile for All Seasons

Smile Train patient Erica and her Mom celebrate a year after her surgery

Southern Mindanao, Philippines
Erica Palomo was born on October 14th, 2009. Her mother Ana and her father Ramon were overjoyed at the birth of their little girl, but their joy quickly turned into fear once they saw her face. Little Erica was born with a severe cleft lip.

Ana and Ramon could not understand why their daughter was born this way, as they had never seen anyone with a cleft in their poor village. Their hearts were broken knowing that they would not be able to provide Erica with the surgery she so desperately needed. Ana was unemployed and Ramon was lucky to get occasional work in construction. With no source of income and a newborn in tow, Ana and Ramon were forced to move their young family in with Ana’s parents and resign themselves to the fact that their precious baby would never be helped. Shortly thereafter, unable to bear the stigma of having a child with a cleft, Ramon left the family.

Time went by, but Ana silently held out a small bit of hope that one day she would be able to help Erica live a normal life. That small bit of hope went a long way with a big twist of fate. A new neighbor that worked at a nearby hospital moved next door to Ana and her family. The neighbor immediately noticed Erica’s cleft and told Ana about the hospital’s partnership with Smile Train. Erica would be able to receive cleft surgery, free of charge. Without hesitation, Ana brought her daughter to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for evaluation and to schedule her surgery. The long wait for help was finally over.

Smile Train patient Erica Palomo before and after free cleft lip surgery

This Christmas, more than a year after her surgery, 3-year-old Erica will happily celebrate her smile with her family. Erica is not only beautiful, but her confidence has been boosted. She now loves playing with other children, instead of shyly hiding in a corner. Ana explained sweetly,

After the surgery you can catch Erica glancing at herself in the mirror and touching her upper lips while smiling.”

Ana and her family are so grateful during this holiday season and wish that Smile Train can continue to share the same miracle with other children with clefts around the world. Free cleft surgery is the best gift these children can receive.

Smile Train Cleft Choir Pilot Speech Program Underway

New York, NYSmile Train Vice President of Programs in charge of Latin America, Pamela Wren, gives an update on a unique and promising pilot speech therapy program, Cleft Choirs.

Help Us Win a Grant to Expand Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs

The Need For Expanded Speech Therapy

Access to cleft palate surgery is life-changing for any child in need, but for some children, this is only the first step in receiving cleft care. Following cleft surgery, many are still at risk of suffering from serious speech problems. Within a few months of palate surgery, children should demonstrate speech development progress, but some children require additional support, such as speech therapy. There are a number of reasons that a child might have speech issues, including:

  • Speech patterns that developed prior to cleft surgery (aka, the child learned how to speak with an open palate – in developed countries, children receive surgery before they learn how to speak, so as to avoid speech problems)
  • Incomplete closure in the palate that allows air to escape into the nose
  • Dental and teeth issues that limit the ability to produce certain sounds
  • Ear problems that affect hearing and, therefore, speech development

Traditional speech therapy, which entails one-on-one sessions between a child and a specialized therapist, requires a long-term commitment among children, their parents, and trained speech professionals. Such resources are often not available at hospitals in developing countries — many patients never return to the hospital following their initial surgery, let alone return for ongoing speech therapy sessions. In a recent survey, Smile Train hospitals identified a lack of financial support, equipment, trained professionals, training, and patient compliance as the most critical barriers to providing speech therapy.

Help Us Win a Grant to Expand Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs

Addressing Speech Therapy Needs

One very innovative partner in South America recently approached Smile Train with a unique, cost-effective technique to offer speech therapy to children in need — the development of Speech Therapy Choirs! This idea is based on the fact that choir practice will bring together children in a social way to practice new sounds and tap their inner musical selves. This experience helps children to gain confidence, develop new friendships, and also tap into a communication skill that they never before were able or willing to explore! In addition to correcting their speech, this experience encourages children with cleft lips and palates to overcome any social barriers they have experienced due to problems with proper speech, and help them develop into happy and productive people!

Smile Train loved this idea from the start, and took the opportunity of the Holiday Season to offer small pilot grants to six of Smile Train’s most enthusiastic partners across the region. The grants have enabled our partners to work with musicians and therapists to oversee the practices and development of the children, reimburse parents children for their transportation costs to and from practice, and cover nominal music supplies and equipment. After only a few months of these grants being active, not only have we seen that the choirs improve speech patterns for our Smile Train kids, they have also helped the kids make new friends, sing proudly in front of their peers and communities for the very first time, and heal their inner scars to feel whole, happy and complete!

Choirs Happening Now

Brazil

Smile Train patients sing with Santa Claus

UNSELVA at Hospital Universitario Julio Muller — located in the interior of Brazil and offers care to about 100 Smile Train children a year. The team is led by head surgeon/cleft director Dr. Adalberto Novaes and speech therapist Adriana Lima Valente. They started practicing in October 2012 and just had a concert on December 7, 2012 to community members. The video shows them rocking out at the hospital entrance, with Santa Claus walking around bringing holiday cheer. You can see parents supporting their children as they learn to be proud and stand up in front of friends and community members as they sing in happiness about their new smiles.

Associação Beija-Flor-Funface at Hospital Infantil Albert Sabin — based in the north of Brazil, the poorest and most needy region of the entire country, this partner serves more 250 children with cleft lips and palates each year. They currently have a very long waiting list of patients in need of primary care. Smile Train is helping them with education grants so they can empower and train more professionals to join their team, and in turn be able to help more children. The lead surgeon is Dr José Ferreira and the speech program is run by Ms. Evelin Gondim. Their choir concert took place on December 11 🙂

Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs to Win a Grant From Uniqlo!

REPENSAR at Hospital Municipal Nossa Senhora Do Loreto — located on the outskirts of Rio de Janiero in a very poor neighborhood, the cleft program offers comprehensive treatment to all patients for free,
including speech therapy and orthodontics. This group loved the choir idea because it motivated the Smile Train children to return to the center to maintain their care and truly develop better speech and social habits. The director of the program is Dra Fatima Regina Almeida Brandao; the cleft program coordinator is Dra Ana Claudia Cruz; the cleft surgeons are Dr Giancarlo Cervo Rechia and Dr Luis Sergio Zanini, and the speech therapist coordinating the choir is Ms. Marinele Danieli Simões Dutra. The choir started practicing in October and put on a fantastic performance on December 17th when all of the kids in the cleft program dressed up as Christmas ornaments and trees as they happily sang in front of a large crowd!

Ecuador

Smile Train patients perform for friends and family as part of our Cleft Choir Speech Therapy program

Hospital del Día Niños de la Mano de Maria — This small partner hospital is 100% dedicated to serving poor patients with cleft lip and palate, and serves about 50 very poor families affected by cleft lip and palate each year. The families travel from across the country to the capital city to see them at their partner hospital. Smile Train is working with them to bring more awareness to people across the country about their program so they can then offer more services to more families in need. The surgical program is led by Dr Pablo Davalos and the coordinator of the team and the choir is Ms. Paty Penaherrera. The choir began practicing in October and even had an activity of practice at the local zoo! On December 17th, they hosted a choir concert where they all dressed up with Santa hats and performed for family members and friends at the hospital. The team and families are so happy about this that they are asking for additional support so they can continue to choir into the new year.

Mexico

Help Us Win a Grant for Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote Here

Hospital General Dr. Gea Gonzalez — This is one of Smile Train’s original partners globally, and over the 11 years of our partnership they have developed many innovative speech therapy projects to serve their poor population of Smile Train patients. They provide life changing surgery to about 300 poor patients each year under the brilliant surgical guidance of Dr. Fernando Molina and shining speech therapist Ms. Maria Carmen Pamplona. The speech program is very large at the hospital and even though they do provide traditional one-on-one therapies for their patients, the lead therapist, Ms. Maria Carmen, strongly believes that their new choir is helping the children make tremendous strides in their speech development and self esteem. She is so happy with the new program and really looks forward to continuing it for all patients for years to come!

Peru

Smile Train patients at choir practice as part of a unique Speech Therapy program

kusiROSTROS — This is an NGO that works with a number of Smile Train’s partner hospitals based in the capital city of Peru, Lima. Smile Train provides more than 700 surgeries across the country in one year. Smile Train’s largest and oldest partner in Lima is called CIRPLAST and is run by partner surgeon Dr. Carlos Navarro. KusiROSTROS applied for the pilot speech therapy choir grant because they have speech professionals who were very excited about the opportunity. As soon as they heard about the project, they started calling all of the Smile Train patients from Lima who are between 4 – 13 years old to see if they would be interested in joining the choir to develop their speech skills and also meet other children who perhaps are going through similar experiences of dealing with their scars and poor speech. About 40 children started participating in weekly choir practices. You can see the photographs of the kusiROSTROS team building decorating a special space for the children to meet, so they would feel welcome and at home at the site to practice and develop their new skills.

Please Help Us Win a Grant from Uniqlo to Expand Our Cleft Choir Program! Vote for Smile Train Cleft Choirs

A Special Holiday Season In Chincha, Peru

Smile Train patients and their families after free cleft surgery

Chincha, Peru — Led by Dr. Carlos Navarro, CIRPLAST, is one our best and most unique partners in providing free cleft surgery and care. While they are based in Lima, due to the lack of medical infrastructure in poorer communities in Peru, this incredible team hosts multiple cleft camps throughout Peru. These cleft camps focus on providing primary cleft care as well as follow up. The team recently returned from Chincha after giving lots of children and their families a very gift for the Holidays.

Smile Train partner surgeon Dr. Carlos Navarro with a patient after free cleft surgery

There are a total of 177,000 people living in Chincha, many living in abject poverty. In 2007, a major earthquake hit the region and 94% of all homes were destroyed or damaged as well as schools, hospitals, community centers and government buildings. Poverty conditions in Chincha worsened drastically, as the already-limited basic infrastructure and services could not meet the needs of residents. The city is still slowly recovering and children born with clefts have little hope that their families would be able to pay for cleft surgery.

But there is hope.

Through partnership with Smile Train, Dr. Navarro and his team have regular cleft camps to provide free surgery and follow up care to these children. These patients and their families will have an extra special Holiday Season filled with new smiles!

dr-navarro-patient-chincha-peru-before-after

Elijah’s New Life

Former Smile Train patient Elijah years after free cleft lip surgery

Detroit, MichiganAs many babies with unrepaired clefts in developing countries are abandoned, our partner hospitals work closely with orphanages. After cleft surgery, these children are later adopted into loving families. Sometimes, even families in the USA like the Medfords who recently sent us this message.

We chose adoption to add to our family and 4 ½ years after beginning this amazing journey, we brought home our sweet son, Elijah James!

We entered the China program intending to adopt a “healthy” child but after my husband desired to adopt a special needs child, we switched over to the Waiting Child program and were chosen to be the parents to Elijah, a child born with a cleft lip. We brought him home in December of 2011 with no information prior to his time with us other than that his lip had been repaired when he was six-months old.

A client of my husband’s had a friend whose daughter works for Smile Train and she put us in contact with her. To our amazement, a Smile Train doctor was the one who operated on our son. She was able to [find his medical record] and shared with us the pre- and post-surgery pictures, which are precious and allow us to have some information to share with Elijah as he gets older. Smile Train changed the trajectory of our son’s life and we’re forever grateful to them and the masterful hands of Dr. Liu Jiebiao…He’s a very loved and happy child!

He has brought our family such joy and has the most precious smile, thanks to you!

We are forever grateful,

The Medford family
Jody, Daniella, Lexie, Emily & Elijah