Ethan’s story

When Dayrim and Ethan departed from their local hospital in Guatemala City, feelings of hopelessness emerged.

Four times she had travelled to the hospital feeling optimistic that her 11-month-old son, Ethan, would finally undergo his cleft lip surgery. Four times his surgery was postponed.

Determined to give her son the life she imagined for him, Dayrim often reflected on how much she and Ethan had overcome together. By that point in his short life, Ethan had spent much of his time in hospitals surrounded by doctors and medical equipment.

From the moment Ethan was born, Dayrim became well-versed in fearing for her son’s health. Her due date hadn’t yet arrived when Dayrim was suddenly rushed to the hospital.

Two months prior to when he was expected, Ethan entered the world. Worry for her premature baby filled Dayrim with anxiety and uncertainty, which only intensified when she saw his smile for the first time.

Although it was never detected in any prenatal ultrasounds, Ethan was born with a cleft lip and would spend the next two months in the paediatric intensive care unit fighting for his life.

Over the course of those few months, Dayrim watched as Ethan began growing stronger and becoming healthier each day. Looking at Ethan, one would never have known that he’d previously needed help breathing due to his underdeveloped lungs.

Medical staff at the local hospital first told Dayrim that surgery to repair Ethan’s cleft lip would be possible when he was three months old. 

Leaving the hospital after a fourth unsuccessful attempt at surgery, Ethan was close to turning one year old, but Dayrim didn’t feel any closer to getting him the cleft care he needed.

11 month Ethan born with cleft lip
Ethan, 11 months old, smiles before surgery during a 2018 surgical programme in Guatemala City.
Photo: Carlos Rueda.
Ethan and Dayrim pose for a picture seven months after his successful cleft lip surgery from Operation Smile Guatemala. Photo: Carlos Rueda.

Then one day, a neighbour shared a story that altered the course of Ethan and Dayrim’s lives. She was told that they also had a child with a cleft condition who received life-changing surgery through Operation Smile Guatemala at no cost to their family. Upon seeing her neighbour’s child, Dayrim’s outlook on her son’s future became brighter, and she recognised that she wasn’t alone.

Their journey toward care and a better life for Ethan finally had an end in sight.

Immediately, Dayrim contacted Operation Smile Guatemala and travelled to a local clinic where medical volunteers told her a surgical programme was taking place the following month. This time, nothing was standing in her way, and Dayrim’s fifth attempt at getting Ethan cleft surgery proved successful.

During the mission, Ethan underwent a comprehensive medical evaluation and was deemed healthy enough for surgery. With her son’s new smile, Dayrim felt ready to start focusing on Ethan’s promising and happier future.

Before and after

Ethan can look forward to a happy, healthy future thanks to his life-changing cleft surgery!

Cleft care in Guatemala since 2011

Brandon receiving his full medical evaluation in Guatemala. Photo - Rohanna Mertens
Brandon receiving his full medical evaluation in Guatemala.
Photo: Rohanna Mertens

Give hope to more families like Ethan’s