It Takes a Village — With the help of friends and advocates of Smile Train and his mother’s dedication to ensure he receives surgery at the soonest possible time, Baby Mao finally received free cleft surgery at Philippine Band of Mercy, a partner of Smile Train Philippines (photo on left from Cristalle Belo’s IG)
MANILA, PHILIPPINES– Every day around the world, 540 babies are born with a cleft, a serious health condition with potentially life-threatening complications such as difficulty in eating, breathing, hearing, and speaking. Smile Train provides comprehensive cleft care services to individuals born with a cleft and their families. Despite the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Smile Train continued to provide free cleft surgery and care for those in need, including baby Mao.
Novalyn, the mother of baby Mao, had initially lost hope. During his first check-up at another organization, Mao was underweight and could not receive surgery. Shortly after, the pandemic started, causing further delays to receiving treatment. After more than a year, Novalyn was referred to Smile Train by Cristalle Belo, Tim Yap and Javi Martinez. Mao received surgery for his cleft lip last September 2021.
“This life changing procedure of baby Mao is truly such a blessing to their family, and we can’t thank Smile Train enough for making this dream a reality. Can’t wait to see the results after baby Mao has healed,” said Cristalle Belo on her Instagram post.
In 2019, Cristalle Belo met baby Mao during one of her family-owned Belo Medical Group’s outreach activities. Baby Mao was not allowed to receive surgery then as he was not strong enough at the time.
Chef Xavier Btesh, who was there to support the outreach activities, also took an interest in Baby Mao’s case, helping to ensure he goes to his pediatric check-ups and gets his vitamins to be healthy enough for his eventual surgery through Smile Train.
“Para sa mga magulang, huwag pong mawalan ng pag-asa dahil nandyan ang Smile Train laging naka suporta para sa atin at para sa mga anak nating may cleft. Pero hangga’t maari, bilang isang magulang, bilang isang nanay, isa sa mga responsibilidad natin na alagaan ang sarili natin lalo na pag tayo ay mayroong anak na may cleft,” said Mommy Novalyn.
(“For all the parents out there, do not lose hope, Smile Train will always be there to support us and for our children with cleft. However, as much as possible, as a parent, as a mother, one of our responsibilities is to take care of ourselves especially when we have a child with a cleft,” said Mommy Novalyn.)
“Through Smile Train’s sustainable model of partnering with local hospitals and empowering local medical professionals, we are able to provide cleft care throughout the year. This model has allowed us to continue to carefully provide safe, quality and timely surgeries throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kimmy C. Flaviano, Smile Train Vice President, South East Asia.
Aside from cleft surgeries, Smile Train has provided over 3,000 telehealth sessions for speech therapy and nutrition counselling during the pandemic. Smile Train also launched the first-ever Filipino language mobile speech app designed for those born with a cleft to continue learning at home.
Despite the challenges of the current times, Smile Train remains committed to its vision of a world where everyone has access to safe and comprehensive cleft care and can live a full and healthy life. In just over 20 years, Smile Train has already supported over 65,000 cleft surgeries in the Philippines.
For more information about Smile Train’s global efforts and to donate, please visit smiletrain.org. To learn more about Smile Train’s local programs in the Philippines, please visit smiletrain.ph, follow Smile Train Philippines on Instagram @SmileTrainPh, and like us on Facebook at @SmileTrainPhilippines.