David’s Cleft Journey in His Mother’s Words

Magaly is the mother of David, age five, a Smile Train patient in Quito, Ecuador. She shared with us her son’s journey to cleft care and what Smile Train has meant for her entire family.

David's mom holds an image her son before cleft surgery
David sits on the patio floor

We are originally from Guaranda, a small town about five hours from Quito. It is a nice, friendly place, and like most indigenous people, we lived in the mountains, about an hour’s drive from the central part of town. Before my twins were born, my husband and I lived with our daughter and my mother on a little plot of land that we farmed.

Everything changed when I had the twins. I only learned that David had a cleft and that his brother had cerebral palsy when I first saw them. The news was especially hard for my husband — he cried for two months after they came. It was hard on me, too, but I knew I took good care of myself during pregnancy and never felt guilty. These things just sometimes happen, and you must do the best you can. For us, that meant that I had to move to Quito with my sons so they could receive the regular treatment they needed. This has been very hard. I can’t find work here, and we all miss the rest of the family and our community back in Guaranda terribly; we call each other every day but it never gets any easier. Having to be away from my little girl, who is now eight, hurts me every minute of every day.

David's mom in traditional clothes

But I do whatever I can to take care of my boys. When we first moved to Quito, David was sent to a public hospital and fed with tubes. That time was nearly unbearable — he was there for a whole month, but no one ever gave me any real treatment or diagnosis for him. The worst part, though, the part that tore at me like a knife in my heart, was that I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed him the whole time we were there. All I could do was watch machines give my son the nourishment I ached to give him myself. I felt helpless and spent much of that time in search of somewhere else to take him.

I thought we found the answer when someone at the hospital told me about an American organization that periodically flew into Quito to perform cleft surgeries for free. I was thrilled by the news and thought we had found hope at last, even if it meant spending months more in the hospital watching David be fed by tubes while we waited for that organization to fly back into town. Thankfully, we didn’t need to wait that long because shortly after learning about that other organization, a friend of my husband’s met me and told me about Smile Train.

David's mom holds him in her arms with a view of Quito

At first, I could hardly believe it — how was it possible that David could receive treatment from doctors right down the street at Hospital de Día Niños de la Mano de María for free? While I was happy to learn that David’s cleft could be treated, no one in our family had ever had surgery before, so I was also very frightened and worried about him.

Thankfully, I soon discovered that there was nothing to worry about. David came out of the operating room with a beautiful smile and the doctors at the hospital are the best I’ve ever met. And when David’s first surgery was done, they were ready to schedule his next one, then regular speech therapy for him after that — all at no cost to our family!

David smiling in a cleft speech therapy session

I have seen that these Smile Train partner doctors and speech therapists are all good people, and I will always be thankful to them and have them in my heart. I am so grateful to Smile Train and its donors for helping David and making treatment possible for him. There are so many other children who need help and I hope they will continue their work.

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