Abandoned by both her parents, Maria Eulália Cabralda Costa faced incomprehensible pain during her first five years of life in Brazil.
She was born with a cleft lip that scarred her beautiful features. Her parents separated when she was just a baby, and her father chose two of her siblings to live with him. Her mother chose two others. Neither of them wanted Maria, a beautiful little girl with huge eyes that reflect her emotions.
When Maria’s parents left her, the city’s Child Protection Council called her grandmother, who chose to raise her small granddaughter.
As Maria grew older, she begged her grandmother to allow her to skip school. Her classmates taunted and tormented her, yelling, “You are crippled. Stay away from me.” Maria was too embarrassed to even play with children in her neighborhood. If she ventured from her home, she covered her mouth with her hands.
Maria’s grandmother was determined to find help for her granddaughter. She first approached the mayor of her city, who was also a doctor. Eventually, a government official directed her to Operation Smile.
When she arrived at the medical mission in Fortaleza, 5-year-old Maria immediately captured the hearts of all the medical volunteers. After her surgery, she was bursting with laughter and smiles.
“I’m so very happy,” said her grandmother. “She plays, runs, talks. She is completely different. Everything has changed for the best. She is always looking at herself in the mirror. She always says that she is beautiful, that she is gorgeous. It was everything we have ever wanted.”