Having a well-balanced diet is important for everyone, but not getting the nutrients you need as a child can be especially detrimental.
As we celebrate National Nutrition Month, which takes place every March, we’d like to shine a light on how getting the right nutrients changed a little boy’s life.
When the Guatemalan government ruled that his family could not currently meet his unique nutritional needs, he was immediately taken to Esperanza de Vida, a Smile Train partner that houses a nutrition recuperation center and an orphanage. The staff named the sweet boy Auner, and plans to heal his cleft were swiftly made.
As the world’s largest cleft charity, Smile Train helps children and their families receive lifesaving surgeries and care at absolutely no cost to them. But before Auner could have any procedures, his overall health and weight had to improve.
Unfortunately, reaching the goals set for him wasn’t easy due to his frequent earaches, digestion issues, and inability to eat certain foods — all consequences of his cleft.
This time period was incredibly difficult for Auner. He would cry as the other children ate foods he couldn’t, like beans, meat, and ice cream. To make matters worse, he had difficulty speaking, making it nearly impossible for him to communicate.
“Auner was loving and affectionate, but the other children couldn’t understand his hand gestures and single-syllable words — he would often give up and play alone,” said Dr. Anna Lucia Garcia, a Smile Train partner.
Despite these difficulties, Auner persevered. In the two years that followed his arrival, he was able to reach his health goals and undergo multiple life-changing cleft surgeries.
“After the surgeries, he could eat so much easier — he doesn’t choke anymore and he has completely recovered his weight,” said Dr. Jorge Mendez, another Smile Train partner. “Most importantly, he can eat the same food as his friends and he’s much happier.”
As Auner’s quality of life continued to drastically improve, he reached yet another major milestone in 2019. Not only was a family interested in adopting him, but the people interested were his biological parents!
From the day the government determined they weren’t capable of meeting his nutritional needs, his parents had worked tirelessly to bring their baby back home.
In order to ensure they were well-prepared, social worker Carina Mejia worked diligently alongside them. For months, she gave them detailed instructions on how to continue Auner’s treatment and taught them how to meet his needs.
It wasn’t easy, but over time, Auner’s family proved without a doubt their dedication to giving their son the kind of care he needs to live a happy, healthy life.
When the day finally came for this sweet 7-year-old to go home, everyone’s smiles lit up the room, especially Auner’s. Once Smile Train opens its first free cleft orthodontics program in Guatemala, he’ll be one of their first patients and improve his health even more.
Treating children with clefts can take time, multiple surgeries, and detailed nutrition plans. But with the help of Smile Train, cleft teams around the world are able to give children the life-changing support they need, no matter how dire their situation may appear.
Share Auner’s story to spread the word about Smile Train’s lifesaving work.
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