Neto’s Cleft Made Him an Introvert. Now It Makes Him an Inspiration

His mother’s wisdom now motivates a whole new generation

Ernesto “Neto” Gutierrez was born with a cleft before anyone in Mexico City had the internet, before there were any local cleft charities, before there was anyone or anything around that could help his mother understand what was happening. What her child needed. How to heal him.

She found the surgery and other vital treatments he needed, but his face still bore the scars of the way he had been born. They reminded him that he was different each time he looked in the mirror, and if he ever wanted to forget, his classmates never let him. “As a child, I suffered a lot of bullying,” he reflected. “Because of this, I became insecure, and sometimes even introverted…. I was afraid of speaking with people, speaking in front of a group, in public, on camera.”

His mother wouldn’t hear of it. She loved him for who he was and encouraged him to do the same:

“If you want to be the best, you have to start overcoming your fears.”

So he did. Powered by a determination as fierce as his mother’s love, Neto grew up to marry the love of his life, have two children, and work for a big global media agency.

It was there that his past insecurities unexpectedly caught up with him. One day, the company announced that they would be doing a community service project with Centro SUMA, a local Smile Train partner hospital specializing in treating local children with clefts. The CEO herself pulled Neto aside to ask if he would be willing to share a few words with the patients.

Suddenly, he was a little kid again. He had never spoken about his cleft in public before and part of him wanted to run away and hide. Yet to be in that state was also to hear his mother’s voice calling to him. He knew he had something important to say, even if he had no idea what it was. He went to the front of the room and spoke from the heart.

When he finished, the children and their parents got closer and asked if they could take pictures with him. After each photo, the parents urged their children to stick with their treatments so that they could grow up to be like him.

”That was a super revealing moment for me, because it was one of those moments that helped me the most to overcome my condition. It was super hard to speak in public about it, but very liberating.”

From that day forward, Neto committed himself “to be as close as possible to Smile Train,” to visit Centro SUMA as often as he could to give other children with clefts the charge that his mother gave to him:

Do not think that you won’t be able to speak well, do not think that you won’t look the way you want to — you will be able to do it. You simply need to be aware that in order to achieve all this, you need to have a great commitment to all the therapies, and everything that has to be done, because it is for your own good. It’s a long journey, but if you take it responsibly and with all that it entails, the result will be something you will appreciate for a lifetime.”

Join Neto in setting other children with clefts on the path to health, success, confidence, and smiles.

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