One of the most memorable moments for any parent is hearing your child say “Mama” for the first time. Such a simple word, but with it, a flurry of emotions and a love felt beyond words.
For some parents this may never happen. Around 1 in 700 babies in the world are born with a cleft and this condition can cause difficulties with eating, speaking and breathing. While in the UK a cleft is repaired with specialist surgery in the first 12 months of the baby’s life, in other parts of the world it is not so simple.
Laila, mother of sisters Jheleen, aged four, and Andrea, aged three, had never heard the word “mama” spoken properly by her daughters. Each baby girl was born with a cleft lip, in a remote area in the Philippines. This made feeding very difficult for them, let alone speaking – and with their cleft conditions came young lives full of ridicule and shame for this family.
Laila and her husband Ronald doted on their two beautiful daughters, but they lived in constant worry as to how they would be able to heal their daughters. When they did approach a doctor locally about what to do for their daughters, they were told that surgery could not be performed until the girls were seven years old. This explanation could not be further from the truth. In fact, cleft surgeries are recommended for healthy children before the age of two to yield the best healing results – something they had no way of knowing. When they received a neighbourhood ﬂyer that told them surgery was both possible for their young girls and free, they immediately pre-registered for the Operation Smile medical mission to the Philippines.
Doctors and nurses evaluated the girls and found they were fit for surgery – this brought unmeasurable joy to Laila and Ronald.
As the little family prepared to go home to a new and better life, Laila told the team that while seeing her girls’ new smiles for the first time was an unbelievable experience it was when Andrea was able to pronounce “Mama” properly for the first time that she cried tears of complete happiness.
Now, after a few years, the girls are no longer stared at, teased and called names. They love to go to school and play with other children. Jheleen & Andrea’s surgery has changed the lives of the whole family and they now look to their future with optimism and hope.
About Operation Smile
Operation Smile has provided hundreds of thousands of safe surgeries for those born with cleft conditions worldwide.
If you would like additional information about treating children with cleft lip and cleft palate, and to find out how you can help, please visit: www.operationsmile.org.uk/MyWeekly or call 020 3475 5126.