With Every Breath, Esvin Defies the Odds

His family thought a child like him could never make it. Then they encountered Smile Train

When Esvin was born, his mother, Teresa, and grandmother, Maria, vowed to treasure every precious second with him — because they feared they wouldn’t get very many. Their anxieties were confirmed the moment Teresa put her newborn to her breast. His cleft prevented him from latching, and the meager amount of milk he did manage to suckle either dripped out of his nose or into his lungs, choking him.

A cleft is never just one issue. When a child with a hole in their mouth is born into a family of very limited means, the repercussions ripple through every aspect of the baby’s life and that of their family. Unable to feed her son, Teresa’s milk supply quickly dried up; unable to eat, Esvin soon lost his birth weight. After only a few weeks of life, Esvin developed hypoglycemia and sometimes stopped breathing because his tiny body was too weak to use its lungs.

Teresa and Maria live with their large, loving extended family in a tiny, remote village in Guatemala six hours from the nearest hospital. Traveling there is fraught with difficulties and dangers, even when not carrying a severely malnourished infant. Teresa was so despondent about Esvin’s odds of survival that she wasn’t sure if she should take the risk, but Maria was blunt. “You must get him out of here. If you don’t take him to the hospital, he will die.”

Esvin survived the trip to the hospital, but only barely. He arrived weighing just under four pounds, breathing erratically, and barely responding to stimulation. Teresa prayed for a miracle. She didn’t know that this hospital, Esperanza de Vida, was a Smile Train partner; she didn’t know that her prayer was about to be answered in full, beyond her wildest dreams.

Between 2000 and 2020, more than 46,000 children with clefts died of malnutrition before reaching their fifth birthday. The team at Esperanza de Vida refused to let Esvin join their ranks. They immediately gave him the small reserve of breast milk they had available, but it was not enough.

So nutritionists Smile Train specially trained to address the unique nutritional needs of babies with clefts took him under their wings. With limitless patience, they helped Esvin grow a little bigger, a little healthier each day. After two months, Esvin reached a healthy weight for his age, and could maintain it. After four months, he was discharged weighing almost 12 pounds!

Energized by her son’s remarkable revival, Teresa brought him home and used everything the team had taught her to help Esvin gain even more weight to get him ready for cleft surgery.

I want to “give Esvin a good future. That’s it,” Teresa said.

Esvin’s miracle happened only because of Smile Train’s supporters. Your investment in our model of empowering local experts made the lifesaving care he needed available near him when he needed it at no cost to his family.

And with your continued support, we can ensure that he will receive the ongoing care he needs to stay healthy and thrive, from surgery to speech therapy to orthodontics and more, likewise at no cost, freeing Teresa and Maria to keep their focus where it belongs — loving Esvin and helping him grow up healthy, happy, strong, and smiling.

“We are very glad to see how the boy is now, and how much better he will be once he has surgery. We thank God and the people who helped us get him to be like this today,” Maria said.

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