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Valeria holding a smiling Lilia

Valeria’s pregnancy should have been a joyous time in her life – yet challenge after challenge filled those short 9 months with uncertainty and grief.

In the matter of just months, Valeria:

  • Suddenly lost her job as a kindergarten teacher when her school closed. She didn’t know how she’d support her little family.
  • Learned her daughter would be born with a cleft lip. She didn’t know how they would afford treatment.
  • Tragically lost her husband. She didn’t know how she’d raise her daughter all alone.

“If my husband were here, I would tell him that we will come out of this together, that we stand by my daughter, that we need to be strong,” Valeria said. “When I had her in my belly, he used to say that she is daddy’s princess.”

It took all of Valeria’s strength to persevere through the seemingly endless list of hardships that she faced, but she was determined to overcome any obstacle for Lilia, who would be born soon.

“I had to give it all for my daughter,” Valeria said.

Discovering Operation Smile Mexico

Despite knowing that Lilia would be born with a cleft lip, Valeria was in shock when she saw her daughter’s little smile for the first time. She blamed herself. Was it something she ate? Didn’t she take proper care of herself?

It wasn’t until she came to our care center that many of her fears were calmed. She learned that Lilah’s condition wasn’t her fault, and that Operation Smile’s dedicated volunteers and local staff would provide ongoing, comprehensive cleft care to her, free of charge.

Overcoming the Challenges of a Cleft Condition

Because of Lilia’s cleft lip, feeding was especially difficult during her first month of life. Dr. Daniel Zunzunegui, a volunteer dentist for Operation Smile Mexico, fit Lilia with a feeding plate.

Molded to the roof of a baby’s mouth, the plates serve as a first step toward surgery, leading patients like Lilia away from starvation and malnutrition.

For patients like Lilia who are born with a cleft lip and palate, speech therapy before and after surgery is a vital component of comprehensive care. Even before they begin to form words.

Speech therapists provide children like Lilia with palate-strengthening exercises and techniques to help improve the surgical outcome. Their ongoing speech therapy care helps patients speak more clearly as they grow.

“(Lilia’s) main improvements include, one, reducing the risk of having a development gap,” Elidé said. “On the other hand, we teach moms how to interact with their babies in a way that’s enriching for the babies’ speech and complete development.”

“The speech therapy support is very impressive. My daughter has progressed well,” Valeria said. “I have seen a change in my daughter during the therapies. She does many little things like babbling, moving around, screaming, playing. Things she almost didn’t do at all before.

“She no longer has the sadness she felt at the beginning.”

Creating a Brighter Future

Lilia being kissed by her mom, Valeria

At 9 months old, Lilia had a successful cleft lip surgery. “When they gave her to me, I wondered, ‘This is my Lili?’” Valeria said.

While surgery is a significant milestone, the journey continues for children like Lilia.

Committed to providing Lilia and Valeria with health that lasts, Operation Smile Mexico and its community of local volunteers remained in touch with the family to make sure everything was in place for when it was time for Lilia to receive surgery to repair her cleft palate – an additional condition that Lilia was born with.

The sacrifices Valeria made for her daughter’s well-being and the unwavering support from Operation Smile Mexico have brought positive changes to their lives. Lilia’s feeding challenges eased, and her cleft palate surgery became a reality. Valeria and Lilia now share brighter, healthier, and happier futures, filled with love and hope.

Thank you to our partners who make life-transforming stories like this one possible.

Donors and Volunteers made this story possible. Thank you.