Smile Train’s Newest Partner From Bolivia

Tiwanaku Project Pamela Wren, Smile Train’s Latin America Director, welcomes Dr. Raul Caceres (left) and his staff to Smile Train.

New York, NY — Although Dr. Raul Caceres, a plastic surgeon and director of Smile Train’s newest partner, the Tiwanaku Project in Bolivia, has a surgical practice in New York City’s luxurious Upper East Side, he still devotes much of his time and talent to his hometown.

Born in Oruro, Bolivia, Dr. Caceres knows much about the hardships members of the community, located in the Bolivian Altiplano, 12,000 feet above sea level, encounter each day. The region is home to both magnificent scenery and some of Bolivia’s poorest citizens.

“Since I was born there I know what the conditions of the people are,” Dr. Caceres said. “They have one room that is the living room, dining room, everything, and the bathrooms, of course, are on the outside.” Residents also do not have electricity, so candles and bonfires must be used for light and warmth.

As Dr. Caceres’ career started blossoming during his work at top institutions like John Hopkins in Baltimore, among many others, he started thinking of ways he could give back to Oruro. It was not until a church trip to his hometown six years ago that he knew in which way he would do so.

During the trip the group visited the hospital in Oruro which was over a hundred years old and dilapidated. One participant noticed nurses washing their latex gloves to be used for the next day. “He just couldn’t believe it. He thought this is like going back in time, like a hundred years.” That same individual challenged Dr. Caceres to use his expertise as a plastic surgeon to help the hospital.

From the beginning Dr. Caceres had the full support of his church and six years later his vision, the Tiwanaku Project was complete. During that time a new hospital was built in the middle of the complex where the old one stood and is similar to any hospital found in the United States. “It looks like it is a castle in the middle of this one hundred year-old spread out hospital with some rooms falling down,” boasts Dr. Caceres. In Dr. Caceres’ “castle” the second floor is dedicated to clefts. (The first floor houses the Tiwanaku Project’s burn center.)

Another similarity between the Tiwanaku Project and the care in the U.S. is that each cleft patient is provided with continuous, comprehensive care all year round. “We have this opportunity that we have the infrastructure and we’ll have doctors train there in this kind of work [cleft care] so care will be given in a continuous kind of way.” Dr. Caceres also adds that many other specialists important for cleft care, including ENT doctors, audiologists, and dieticians, will also be available to patients.

Dr. Caceres has spared no detail to ensure that patients and their families are provided with the best care. The Tiwanaku Project now provides parents traveling great distances to the hospital, who previously slept on the floor and ate the leftovers of their children, a bed to sleep on and a dining room to eat provided meals.

“It is a unique place,” a prideful Dr. Caceres says with a smile.
Smile Train is also proud to have the Tiwanaku Project and Dr. Caceres on board to help Bolivian cleft patients in need. Below is a message from Dr. Caceres to the Smile Train donors.

Rodolpho’s New Smile

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.

Smile Train Cleft Lip Patient and his MotherRodolpho 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.

Smile Train Patient Rodolfo Before Cleft Lip SurgeryNot 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.

Smile Train Patient Rodolpho After Cleft Lip Surgery
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.

Esau from Bolivia

Fundacion Gantz, in Chile — a Smile Train partner since 2002 with over 1700 surgeries — sent us this story of a young mother from Bolivia who crossed the border to get free cleft surgery for her child.

“Esau came to our Foundation when he was almost a year old. He came alone with his mother from Bolivia, and had both his lip and palate untreated.”

When Esau was born, Yovana, his mother, was terribly worried, she knew nothing of clefts, and no one helped her. She even thought that Esau could die, as he had feeding problems.”

“A few weeks before traveling to Santiago, she knew, through another non profit organization, Chuqui Ayuda, of Fundacion Gantz and that treatments for clefts were possible. She sadly recalled the rejection of people when seeing her child.”

“Yovana was very surprised in Esau’s change after the adhesion and grateful for the prompt response.”

“We’ve enclosed the before and after pictures of Esau in his mother’s arms. Notice the colorful “aguayo” (baby sling) in which he is carried.”