Jesica, aged 15, was born with a complete unilateral cleft lip and palate. She had her first lip repair surgery when she was a year old and in the years that followed, she underwent six more surgeries.
She’s been a patient at the Gavina Foundation, TF’s partner in Argentina, for five years and has received speech therapy, dental, and orthodontic support. She’s a determined young woman – the last five years, she has not missed one appointment.
Pictured here: Jesica with Gabriela, Gavina’s Executive Director
Jesica’s parents sell fruits and vegetables in their home of La Reduccion in Lules, Tucuman Province. She lives with an older brother, who is 23, as well as her grandfather. Like many of our patients, her family struggles to afford the basic necessities of life. Her treatments have made it difficult for her mother to afford to put food on the table. Jesica told us that without her parents, she doesn’t believe she would have received treatment for her cleft.
It can be difficult for some families to deal with a child with any special needs, including a cleft, which involves arduous travel, many appointments, and can be physically, emotionally, and economically draining. Most of the families using Gavina’s services are poor; many parents have low levels of education and thus low earning power, and losing time means losing money.
Although her peers used to tease her for her cleft scar and how she talked, she says she now has a lot of friends who support her and she can explain her scar and speech to people when they ask.
Jesica loves to draw and paint and would like to be an artist someday. We asked her what she would wish for if she had three wishes, and she replied, “To be better in every way.” She also said she would like to have a career, to be able to work, but sometimes she feels like she won’t be able to do it.
Still, she says that she would tell other cleft patients starting their treatments, “Keep going. All of us can accomplish things.”
For those like Jesica, comprehensive treatment that goes beyond the initial surgery is needed – often this treatment extends into early adulthood. It can be a complex and tiring process. As our patients grow older, Transforming Faces continues to adapt to meet the needs of our partners.
Surgery is an important part of a child’s treatment, but it’s just the beginning of the journey. Providing multi-disciplinary and long-term cleft care requires a significant amount of collaboration and hard work.