When Leana Was Born with a Cleft Too, we Charted a New Path

With Smile Train’s help, Leonardo gave his daughter the cleft care he dreamed of as a child

Ranelyn and Leonardo holding Leana, showing a photo of her before surgery

In Cebu, Philippines, Leonardo was over the moon when he learned his wife, Ranelyn, was pregnant with their first child. But when little Leana was born, one of his greatest fears came to life: She was born with a cleft, just like he was. Here’s his story in his own words.

When I found out that my Ranelyn was pregnant, I could see our future as parents unfolding right before my eyes. We had the same dreams as any parents. We would raise a smiling baby, put them through school, and watch them reach great heights of success. As the nine months passed by, I could feel our dream inching closer and closer to becoming reality.

But something put a wrench in our plans. At our pre-natal check-ups, we asked the doctor about the chances that I would pass my cleft onto Leana like my father did to me.

“I can’t say for sure, but it is definitely possible,” the doctor said.

Even though all Ranelyn’s scans were clear and the baby seemed healthy, we were still nervous. We carried those nerves all the way to the day of Leana’s birth. As soon as we heard the doctor say she had a cleft, we knew what to expect. By this point, we were ready for it.

Leonardo, Leana, and Ranelyn sitting on the floor holding a photo of Leana before cleft surgery
Leana and her parents holding a photo of Leana before cleft surgery

The doctor who delivered Leana advised us to get her treated as soon as possible. But, when we took her to our city hospital to get evaluated, the staff told us that we needed to wait: Since I had had my cleft lip surgery when I was five years old, Leana should have the same.

We tried to be patient, but it was impossible. Whenever Leana ate, food would trickle into her nose. She coughed and choked until her tiny lungs tired out. In public, people whispered and stared at her. It was painful to witness. I saw my own childhood reflected before my very eyes. I couldn’t stand to let my daughter struggle any longer.

In March of 2020, I contacted the mission group that provided my cleft surgery to help Leana. At first, we were hopeful. Of course, just when things were looking up, the COVID-19 pandemic swept into the Philippines and canceled Leana’s surgery.

We never heard back from the organization after that. It was disheartening, but looking back now, it was a blessing in disguise. We started to search online for new options, and that’s how we found Smile Train.

After messaging their Facebook page, we were put in contact with Smile Train staff. Two weeks later, Leana’s surgery was scheduled. It was unbelievable! At four years old, Leana was finally getting the treatment she needed.

Leana holding a Smile Train banner
Leana can’t wait to continue her cleft care journey with Smile Train!

We went to Smile Train partner Mabuhay Deseret Foundation for Leana’s treatment. The staff were very respectful and caring to us all. It was reassuring to get to know the people who’d be helping my daughter through her cleft journey.

My experience was very different. An American surgeon was flown in to perform my surgery. I hardly knew them, and I was never able to receive my cleft palate surgery. But with Smile Train, Leana sees a team who will always be here for her and can provide her with the comprehensive care she needs. When she finally went into the operating room, I had full trust in them.

When we saw Leana for the first time after her surgery, Ranelyn and I felt lighter. We could see the doors of opportunity opening for our baby girl. My worries of Leana experiencing a childhood like my own, full of bullying and isolation, dissolved immediately.

Leana smiling and making a heart symbol with her fingers
Leana is sharing her love with the world

Now our house is full of joy! Ranelyn and I love watching Leana grow. She’s currently in kindergarten, and even though she’s quiet, she’s very creative. She loves to color and draw.

Leana laying on the floor coloring a coloring sheet with crayons
Today, Leana always has a crayon in her hand

Soon, Leana will get her cleft palate surgery and begin speech therapy, all thanks to Smile Train. Having them by our side has made a world of difference.

To other parents like us, the most important thing you can do is keep your child healthy and strong. With your help, your child will become everything you hope for.

Ranelyn and Leonardo holding Leana and smiling at her
The whole family can’t help but smile knowing that Smile Train is on their team

Thank you, Smile Train!

You can bring hope to families all around the world.