Disha: From Myth and Malnutrition to Miracle

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Disha smiling and holding a photo of herself before cleft surgery

When Disha was born, her mother, Sathi, had no time to prepare for what she was about to see.

As she cradled her baby for the first time, she was ready for the heartwarming meeting all mothers dream of. Instead, she was frozen in shock. Disha had a split in her upper lip that went all the way up to her nose. Sathi couldn’t believe her eyes. She held Disha close, hoping the doctor would have an answer.

His words were a crushing confirmation: “Your daughter was born with a cleft.”

Disha before cleft surgery
Disha before cleft surgery

Sathi’s heart stopped. No one in her or her husband, Doyal’s family had this condition. She was at a loss. All she wanted was to give her daughter a fulfilling life, but if she didn’t know how to care for her, all seemed lost.

The doctor sensed Sathi’s panic. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Take her to Nargis Memorial Hospital. They work with Smile Train to treat babies with clefts. They’ll take good care of her.”

Disha standing in front of Sathi and Doyal after cleft surgery
Now Doyal, Disha, and Sathi are a happy, smiling family

When Sathi and Doyal returned home with little Disha, they were anxious about the journey ahead. Thankfully, their relatives were very encouraging. This support meant the world to them because, as they’d find out, not everyone felt the same.

“The community was criticizing me constantly,” Sathi said. Her neighbors told her that Disha was born with a cleft because she was pregnant during an eclipse, an old superstition that has proven as persistent as the social shunning that comes with it.

Sathi wanted to get Disha treated right away. She booked her first appointment at Nargis Memorial Hospital for when she was only one month old. There, the family met Dr. Tarikul Islam. He reassured them that Disha’s cleft was treatable with surgical care. And that, thanks to Smile Train, all of Disha’s care would be free! The news lifted a huge weight off the family.

Disha playing with a jump rope after cleft surgery
Disha and her family were jumping for joy when they found out about Smile Train!

But before Disha could get her first surgery, she’d first need to grow. This proved surprisingly challenging. Because of her cleft, Disha couldn’t latch properly to breastfeed. Other attempts at feeding resulted in milk dripping into her nose and choking her.

Smile Train’s partners at Nargis Memorial helped Sathi and Dayal explore ways to feed Disha until they found a method that helped her start to gain weight. Soon enough, she’d be ready for surgery.

Though they were on track to heal Disha’s cleft, Sathi couldn’t dispel the fears that had lingered at the back of her mind since giving birth. There was a slight chance that Disha’s cleft wouldn’t heal properly. Even as an infant, Disha’s community rejected her because of her looks — and in a rural village like theirs, a woman who doesn’t get married will be left behind.

Her child’s future was still terrifyingly unclear.

What if the surgery isn’t successful? What will we do?

Worries haunted her up until the day of Disha’s cleft lip surgery. When the time finally came, thousands of thoughts, each worse than the next, swirled in her mind while her daughter was behind closed doors.

The anxiety left her a trembling mess in the waiting room.

After what felt like days, Dr. Islam reappeared with Disha. Her body buzzing with adrenaline, Sathi instinctively reached out for her baby.

Disha’s cleft lip was healed!

“Whatever confusion was in my mind fully cleared because I could see the result right there,” Sathi said. “That was so relieving for me and her father.”

Disha holding a white bear in a red Smile Train shirt
Disha is un-bear-ably cute with her Smile Train teddy!

While Disha’s lip was healed, she still had a cleft palate, meaning her feeding issues remained. She could only ingest liquids and even then, they still leaked out of her nose. Malnutrition in infants with cleft palates is unfortunately common. Disha was no exception.

She needed another surgery.

With Smile Train’s help, that was no problem. Disha’s cleft palate surgery went off without a hitch. Now she’s able to eat anything she pleases.

Disha’s community was thrilled with the results of her surgeries. Now, she’s no longer an outcast in her own village. She attends nursery school — a dream come true for her parents — where she has no problem fitting in and making friends.

Disha playing with kitchen toys after cleft surgery
Disha and her friend playing with their favorite toys

Without the help of Smile Train’s donors, Sathi and Dayal wouldn’t have been able to provide Disha with the surgery she desperately needed. “We are very grateful,” Sathi says.

Disha standing in front of a tree holding a photo of herself before her cleft surgery
Disha before her cleft surgery

Doors have opened for Disha now. “She can choose anything she wants to be. As parents, we will support her.”

There’s no doubt that whatever path she goes down, the future has incredible things in store for Disha.

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