Coming Together for Their Child with Cleft

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In Paraguay, Mercedes and her husband Derlis were eager and excited to welcome their third child into the world. However, rather than feeling overjoyed when their baby Brian was born, Mercedes was overcome with grief. Her child was born with a severe cleft lip and cleft palate – conditions her regular ultrasounds had not detected. Although she had seen people with cleft conditions before, Mercedes never thought that this was something that could happen to her child. Mercedes loved her baby and worried about whether he would grow up to be happy and healthy like his two older brothers.

Initially, Mercedes was nervous about bringing her baby home from the hospital. She didn’t know how her family would react when they saw her child’s facial deformity. To her amazement, her family showed her and her child an enormous outpouring of love beyond what she ever expected. Both sides of the family came together to help Mercedes and Derlis in anyway they could. Because of the challenges around feeding Brian, Mercedes was not able to work. To help ease Mercedes and Derlis' financial burden, family members helped to cover household costs so they could focus on Brian’s care. Even though Mercedes was grateful to have such incredible support and happy that her family’s love for Brian had brought them closer together than ever before, she still sought out a solution for Brian's condition. 

Mercedes and Derlis knew that surgery could help correct Brian’s condition and looked for a private surgeon who could give Brian the care that he needed. Rather than finding a solution, Mercedes found that the cost of cleft lip repair surgery was far more expensive than they would be able to afford – almost $1,700 USD!

Thankfully, Brian’s pediatrician was familiar with the work of Operation Smile Paraguay and urged Mercedes to take him to their clinic. The team with Operation Smile Paraguay reassured Mercedes that they would be able to care for her child and scheduled him for surgery at their next medical mission.  

Unfortunately for the family, Brian’s first attempt at surgery to repair his cleft lip ended in disappointment – little Brian was too sick and it would have been dangerous for him to undergo surgery. There was nothing that Mercedes could do to help her son other than bring him home and care for him as best as she could for six months until the next medical mission. Despite the challenges around caring for Brian, Mercedes did everything in her power to ensure that he would be healthy before the next medical mission. When it finally came time for the medical mission to begin, Brian was as healthy as any child his age and was able to receive surgery. This time, instead of tears, Mercedes was able to take Brian home from the hospital with a big smile on her face knowing that her son’s future would be brighter. When the family arrived home from the hospital, everyone in the neighborhood was waiting for them with balloons in the street – they had all come out to celebrate Brian’s new smile. 

Even though Mercedes was elated that Brian had been able to receive to surgery to repair his cleft lip, she knew that there would still be challenges ahead for them. Because Mercedes was so dedicated to making sure Brian’s lip healed correctly, Mercedes wouldn’t put Brian down for the first month after his surgery, scared that he might fall and damage his lip. She took to riding the bus to and from the nearest town to keep him entertained.

A few weeks ago, Mercedes, Derlis, and Brian attended their third Operation Smile medical mission, this time for Brian’s cleft palate surgery. After another medical evaluation, Brian was cleared and scheduled for surgery.

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Now that Brian's cleft palate has been repaired, Mercedes is again ready to ride the bus back and forth with her son until he is feeling better and can play with his big brothers. She is looking forward to celebrating Brian's sucessful surgeries and her family coming together once Brian has completely healed.

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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