In His Mother’s Arms

Immediately after Leudy was born, he was taken away before his mother, Marisol, could see him or hold him. Leudy was born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate, and the doctor wanted to explain Leudy’s condition to Marisol before she met her child. But she had no idea why the doctor wouldn’t let her see her baby. Instead, feelings of fear and uncertainty raced through Marisol’s mind in those immediate moments after giving birth. What could be wrong?

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When the doctor brought Leudy to Marisol, Leudy’s mouth was covered to hide his cleft lip and cleft palate. The doctors explained that there were surgical options for Leudy’s condition, but they would have to wait until he grew big enough to receive surgery safely.

Marisol and her husband, Ramon, were shocked. Their son’s cleft condition did not show up on any ultrasounds. Searching for an explanation, Marisol researched possible reasons for his condition. She was convinced the food poisoning she suffered from around two months into her pregnancy could have been the cause, but she also knew that there could be numerous reasons for why this happened.

At first, Marisol didn’t want to take her baby outside, but she changed her mind quickly. People would point and say things about her son. Marisol would bring a dummy to cover his mouth and to quiet their hurtful criticism and questioning.

“He is my son and he is beautiful,” Marisol said.

One day as he was walking down the street, Ramon saw a baby with a repaired cleft lip. He asked the baby’s mother where she received help for her child. She told him about Operation Smile and gave him the number to contact Perla Abreu, Operation Smile Dominican Republic patient coordinator.

Ramon immediately send a text to Abreu, and they set up an appointment for Leudy’s comprehensive health assessment at an upcoming Operation Smile medical mission in Santo Domingo.

Leudy and Marisol took a three-hour bus ride from Higuey to the capital city. Ramon had to stay behind to work at his job.

At the hospital, Operation Smile medical volunteers evaluated whether Leudy was healthy enough for surgery. Marisol was relieved when he was cleared for surgery, but she was also worried. Ramon called every chance he had while at work to check in on his son.

After Leudy’s surgery, Marisol held Leudy in her arms and stared at his repaired lip. No longer would she have to hide his lip behind a dummy to avoid other’s hurtful comments. In this moment, she felt sheer happiness. Leudy’s dignity has been restored.

Back home, Ramon and the family’s neighbours could not believe what seemed like an instant change. They organised a huge celebration in honour of Leudy and this remarkable transformation.

Since his surgery, Leudy has grown into a healthy, happy young boy. Marisol is grateful to everyone at Operation Smile and to the medical volunteers who came from around the world to help children like her son and families like hers.

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“Every child that has a facial deformity is our responsibility. If we don’t take care of that child, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.”

- Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-founder and President