Monica’s Inner Strength Shows in Her Smile

Monica has been through more than any child should, but today she shines bright.

Monica holding an image of herself as a child

Flor was living in her mother’s house with her husband, Diego, and their two children when she learned she was pregnant with her third child. She had already had several ultrasounds and expected another healthy birth, so when the doctors rushed her new baby away before Flor could even see her because of something they called a “cleft,” she was beside herself. A full hour passed before she was at last allowed to hold her new daughter, who they named Monica.

“It was so unexpected,” Flor recalled. “A terrible shock. I’d never seen a cleft before and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to feed her and the doctors didn’t explain. They told me to use a syringe, but it didn’t work. Monica cried with hunger day and night.”

Monica poses with her mother

Luckily, Flor’s sister taught orthodontics at a university in nearby Bogotá. She referred her eight-day-old niece to a doctor who gave her a brace that allowed her to bottle-feed without choking. A short while later, Flor signed Monica up for a surgery from a mission-based cleft organization that happened to be in Colombia at the time. Though the whole family was grateful Monica was able to get the surgery she needed, it was clear to them that she would still need additional surgeries, speech therapy, and orthodontics. But the doctors who had cared for her were already long gone.

Monica’s doctor then recommended FISULAB, a center in Bogotá that offers comprehensive cleft care of all kinds, all for free, thanks to their partnership with Smile Train. “Tell me where it is, and I’ll go!” Flor said.

Monica holds up a Smile Train sign

Because FISULAB is based near where Monica lives, they were able to provide her with the follow-up surgeries she needed as she needed them, in addition to continuing speech therapy and psychological and emotional counseling.

monica in school uniform waiting for school bus

When Monica was about 10, her family moved out of Flor’s mother’s home into government housing in Quinchinchirá, outside Bogotá. They were settling in and saving money for needed renovations when Diego was stabbed and killed. Though Monica had already been receiving psychosocial counseling from FISULAB before this tragedy, the FISULAB staff’s unyielding care during this time became an absolutely indispensable part of her healing process.

“I like going to FISULAB because everyone there is very nice to me and I feel like they’re doing their best to help me and the other children,” she said.

Monica shows off her artwork

FISULAB further helped Monica when she was threatened by a classmate, which was especially traumatic after her father’s murder. “The people at FISULAB helped me to work it out and now I feel confident to go to school again.”

Monica does her homework

Today, FISULAB has helped Monica channel her grief and live positively. She’s grown into a hard-working, responsible young woman who looks after her mother. At school, she helps her teacher keep order as the class supervisor. She also loves learning English, studying with her two best friends, and playing basketball, and wants to be a gym teacher when she grows up.

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