Bautista Busts a Move

His feet are magic. His smile, a miracle

Bautista could barely breathe when he was born. He could barely eat, either: When his mother, Soledad, tried to nurse him, milk dripped out his nose and into his lungs, choking him. If she and her husband, Luis, hadn’t found Fundación Rioja, their local Smile Train partner, just in time, their newborn might have been another of the too many babies who dies each year from preventable cleft-related complications.

Bautista as a baby, before cleft surgery
Baby Bautista

Without missing a beat, the Fundación Rioja team taught his mother special skills to ensure her baby could eat and grow. Once she got Bautista healthy enough, they gave him his first cleft surgery, made possible by Smile Train’s generous donors around the world.

It saved his life, but it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be. Bautista’s palate was still open, meaning he still needed help feeding. His teeth were severely misaligned, and each new word he learned to say with crooked teeth and a cleft palate threatened to make his speech that much more difficult to understand for the rest of his life.

Here, too, his team at Fundación Rioja had his back. Because Smile Train supports local cleft experts like them to provide the cleft care children need when they need it, Bautista had a second cleft surgery, to heal his palate, as soon as he was big enough for it. The following years brought orthodontics and speech therapy customized just for his unique needs.

Bautista today, smiling
Bautista today

Yet he still felt lonely in school. Every time he opened his mouth, he was reminded of how different he was. He mumbled when he spoke and struggled socially.

Bautista was always athletic and gravitated to music, so his parents thought maybe dance classes would help him find friends and boost his confidence.

Today, from the dance academy to the streets, Bautista’s moves are smooth as butter and hotter than fire. Together with his ragtag crew of fellow misfits, he has found his soul and his smile through moving his body.

“For me, the dance academy is like my second family, because the teacher and my buddies have been supporting me in some things that I couldn’t do well,” he says. “When I’m sad, I go dancing and I forget about the problems I have.”

Bautista and his dance crew hanging in a jungle gym
Bautista with his dance crew

He wants to grow up to be a professional soccer player because, just as his family, teachers, friends, and cleft team motivated him to pick himself up off the floor and live in the body he was born into, he is determined to spread that same inspiration to others.

“I am not going to give up.”

Bautista smiling with his parents
Bautista with his parents, Soledad and Luis

UPDATE: Since this video was made, Bautista has signed with Boca Juniors Reserves and Academy in Buenos Aires, the club that has trained more professional soccer players than any other in the world! It is a grinding program with fierce competition, but the relentless work ethic, drive, and optimism Bautista has picked up over a long cleft journey — plus his naturally graceful feet — have already powered him to early success.

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