New Year, Fresh Start: Lucas Oliveira Success Story

As a child, one of the hardest parts about having a cleft is looking different from everyone around you and finding acceptance. It’s not uncommon for children who attend school with clefts to be excluded from play, taunted and teased. Lucas Oliveira was one of these children stigmatized and bullied for his cleft and this unfortunately led to low self-esteem. Lucas says, “I spent the first 8 years of my life growing up very shy and sad.”

Thanks to Smile Train Partner Hospital, Associação Saúde Criança, Lucas was able to receive free surgery for his cleft and after the surgery and the physical and emotional healing started to begin. Next, Patricia signed Lucas up for music therapy treatment. Lucas began singing every day, and he even got his brother to practice singing with him when they were at home and the therapy was an astounding success. These choir sessions encouraged Lucas, boosted his confidence, and made him more comfortable with his speech. Today Lucas, besides being a singer is also a champion jiu jitsu fighter, an actor in soap operas, and a global model.

Patricia, says that she is forever grateful, and that she still, sends hospital updates and pictures of Lucca’s amazing progress. What a success story!

Lucas, after surgery, in one of his model shots.

Lucas, after surgery, in one of his model shots.

A Letter of Thanks Sent From Big Mountain

Lu Hejing, Guisheng, and Dr. Li after surgery.

Yunnan Province, ChinaA volunteer from Taiwan, writes a letter to a Smile Train Partner Doctor thanking him for helping an 11-year-old boy born with a cleft lip.

Dear Doctor Li,

This is a letter of thanks sent from my inner heart. Thanks to your medical skills and meticulous arrangements, surgeries in Kunming are running smoothly. Thank you so much!

A boy named Guisheng turned eleven this year, but he is only in his second year of primary school. Both of his parents have been limited because neither of them can read or write, and they work as farmers who struggle to make ends meet. The family originally had one large piece of farmland for growing corn, but due to continuous droughts in Yunnan Province they had to move to find a source of water. This move cost them money that they didn’t really have, and therefore they had no money left to build their own house.

Despite their financial problems, the family still blames themselves for not being able to give Guisheng an operation to fix his cleft. They have been saving up money and trying to get loans ever since he was born, but all they have gotten is 300 Yuan which is equal to less than $50 US dollars. When they found out about Smile Train, and that Guisheng could receive surgery for free, they still insisted on arranging their own transportation to and from the hospital, and paying for their own food at the hospital. They said this was important to them because they respect and cherish this precious opportunity for free treatment.

After Guisheng’s surgery was completed, his family was so grateful that they could barely even look at me while leaving the hospital. One morning when I woke up a voice suddenly popped out in my heart, telling me that this was why I had chosen to come to Yunnan. Sincere gratitude, Doctor Li!

Yours truly,

Lu Hejing
Volunteer from Taiwan
Lijiang, Yunnan Province

Guisheng waiting for surgery.

Guisheng waiting for surgery.

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