No matter how much we plan, life has a way of throwing us a curveball when we least expect it.
Zulema and Jose ran a small grocery store outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. When they discovered that Zulema was pregnant, they immediately started saving money for their baby. Little did they know that their baby would have a birth difference that would plunge them into uncertain waters for months.
Miguel was born with a cleft, a condition neither of his parents had ever heard of before his birth. Jose admitted his “whole world crumbled to pieces” when he first saw his son’s face. Zulema cried for days and refused to leave the house or receive visitors.
“My relatives would ask for pictures and I refused to send any,” she explained. “I was really distressed because I had never seen anything like this before. I didn’t know where to go, what hospital to take him to…. I couldn’t even think about the future. I was right there in the present, with my baby.”
The staff at the hospital where Miguel was born assured them that his cleft was not only common, but very treatable. They left the hospital with an appointment to see a specialist.
At home, Zulema struggled to care for her new baby. Nurses had taught her to feed him with a syringe, but she was so anxious she’d hurt him that she became mired in worry. It was only her intense love for her son that got her through those dark days. She became determined to find a doctor who could help them.
The first doctor wasn’t as helpful as they’d hoped, so they got a new appointment — but it was scheduled for months in the future. One day, Zulema was upset at work and a customer approached her and told her about Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft-focused organization. She explained that Smile Train partners with local hospitals worldwide, including in Buenos Aires. Because of generous donations from strangers, Miguel’s care would be completely free of charge!
Zulema and Jose immediately made an appointment at the nearby Asociación PIELs. Zulema said she finally felt they were in the right place the moment they walked in the door!
When Miguel was 4 months old, he had his first cleft surgery, and Zulema learned how to bottle-feed him and give him post-surgical care. When they first saw their son after his cleft was healed, his parents broke down in tears of pure joy and relief.
“I felt as if he had been born again,” Zulema said. “My son was born twice.”
Miguel needed one more surgery in a year to fully healhis palate. Smile Train and their partners had to take extra cautions through the COVID-19 pandemic, but Miguel was able to have his next surgery in 2021. He can now eat, speak, and most importantly, smile, with zero limitations.
And what a beautiful smile it is!
The family is so grateful to everyone who helped their son heal. They tell everyone they know about Smile Train, and they urge other parents to “keep fighting” for their babies to make sure they get the care they need to lead healthy lives.
Don’t forget to share this story to celebrate Miguel’s new smile!
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