The child will have to undergo several interventions during her adolescence so that the malformation with which she was born can be corrected

Mariela Romero Cuevas' eyes became great with happiness when she saw herself in the mirror after the surgery she was performed at the Shriners Children's Medical Center in Pasadena, California to correct her cleft palate and cleft lip with which he was born 11 years ago.

The malformation disappeared to give rise to well-defined lips that draw a shy smile.

“I felt totally happy, and I was surprised to see her like this,” says her mother Bertina Cueva de Jesus who does not fit the taste. So much so that he immediately sent images to his family in Mexico, proud of the change in his daughter's face. "My husband is very happy," she says.

Mariela Romero after leaving the operation with her mother Bertina, her doctor Caroline Yao and the assistant Cassie M. Rodriguez. (Courtesy Shriners)

Mariela was born in Guerrero, Mexico. Her mother tells that she and her husband became very sad when they realized that the girl was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip., a congenital deformation that occurs when the tissue that forms the palate and upper lip do not develop and come together before birth, and this causes an opening in the upper lip.

“Since she was three months old, I sought help in Guerrero, but operating it left us more than 100,000 pesos. We had no donors or money, ”Bertina recalls.

So time went by. The girl grew up like a normal girl, although with difficulty speaking; and her appearance made her an object of derision in school.

“They always made fun of him. They called him Chuckie and clown, ”says his mother.

Mariela Romero before surgery. (Courtesy Shriners)

But life changed them when two years ago, they left their home state to go to work in the countryside to the state of Sinaloa in northern Mexico.

"My husband and I work in the chile cut for the San José Agricultural Production Company in Guasave, Sinaloa," she says.

Bertina tells us that one day they went to visit them and take donations to the San José Agricultural Village where farm workers live, a group of people from the El Zorro Foundation of the Balderrama family.

“A day later they told us about this Shriners program. And they told us that if we were willing to come and bring it to treatment in the United States. At first, we were afraid. But I want the best for my daughter and I decided to accept support, ”he says.

Juan Salvador Negrete, administrative manager of Agrícola San José, explains that between the El Zorro Foundation of the Balderrama family in Los Mochis Sinaloa and the company joined forces to cover the expenses of Bertina and her daughter’s trip to the United States. The operation is carried out by Shriners.

"The main author was the girl Alegra Balderrama. She was the one who on a visit that her group from Colegio Andes to Villa San José that houses the migrant workers of Guerrero, was moved to see Mariela and convinced her parents to help her, ”he says.

A new life begins for Mariela who has been operated on cleft palate and cleft lip. (Araceli Martínez / The Opinion).

The Zorro Foundation got him a medical permit so that mother and daughter could enter the United States, and they had no problem in migration to be treated in Shriners.

Mariela and her mother Bertina left Sinaloa aboard a bus to Los Angeles on January 17.

And without ever having stepped on American soil or knowing how to write or read in Spanish, Bertina managed to take a taxi from the bus station in Los Angeles to the Ronald McDonald House in Pasadena where they were given a roof. “Everything can be and is achieved with the favor of God,” says the mother.

They arrived on January 18, and after a week of consultations and preparations, the girl was operated successfully on Monday, January 27.

“I am very happy for my daughter and with all the people who have supported us. The people of the foundation contacted me in October 2019, and not a year passed when they operated on Mariela, ”says Bertina.

Just as excited about the change in her face, is the youngest whose dream of being a teacher is great.

Dr. Caroline A. Yao of the Shriners Children's Medical Center is happy for the results of the surgery she did to Mariela Romero. (Araceli Martínez / The Opinion).

A journey that begins

Dr. Caroline A. Yao, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the Shriners Children's Medical Center in Pasadena, who performed Mariela's surgery, was very excited.

"It's a very big moment when the operation ends and we give children like Mariela, a mirror to see the change," says the specialist who reveals that to do this type of surgery, doctors like her require nine years of training After graduating from the Medical School.

"We are also like artists because when we rebuild a face, lips and nose, we take care of every millimeter so that it is perfect and there is a balance," he says.

And he explains that, "the face is so important because it is with which we greet the world and how people see us all our lives."

Recognize that for children with cleft palate and cleft lip it is very difficult because they do not feel included.

"They often get sad and people don't understand them. This surgery changes their entire life"He exclaims.

Mariela Romero and her mother Bertina Cuevas do not fit happiness. (Araceli Martínez / The Opinion).

For Mariela, it has a greater meaning because the surgery is done before adolescence begins. "It's a difficult stage for everyone, and for these children who look different, it's even more," the surgeon says.

The operation helps them restore confidence in themselves, he adds.

Normally the correction of this malformation is made between three and six months of age, but due to lack of access, Mariela had to wait 11 years.

Dr. Yao points out that one in 1,000 children are born with cleft palate and cleft lipor. She is part of a study to deepen the causes. “We don't have the final result. In part, we know that the origin is genetic; and on certain occasions, the environment triggers it like indoor smoke caused by cooking inside the houses, ”he says.

Mariela has a severe version of cleft palate and cleft lip on both sides of her face, so it is very likely that it requires a greater number of surgeries.

“Most children need at least four operations because they are several malformations. One for the lip; another for the palate; an extra to help them speak better because they have a hole between their teeth that we have to close with bone ”.

The last surgery is a rhinoplasty to put in place the nose that can be crooked and asymmetric. "The latter is usually done when they are 18, which is when the nose stops growing," says the surgeon.

Dr. Yao says that the January 27 operation that lasted three hours is just the beginning. "A wonderful trip awaits us together with Mariela and we are going to see her progress," she says happily.


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