Eleven-month-old Nicolle during Operation Smile’s 2011 medical mission in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo: Erin Lubin.
As police officers, Jessica and her husband, Maynor, are trained to shield people from harm – but after the birth of their daughter, Nicolle, they soon learned that there was nothing they could have done to protect the one person they loved most.
But regardless of the obstacles the first-time parents confronted, they faced them together as a family.
“From the moment we knew my wife was pregnant with our first child, we were filled with hope,” Maynor said.
Jessica and Maynor were joyful and excited on the day of Nicolle’s birth. But after receiving concerned glances from the doctors, their happiness soon gave way to feelings of fear and panic.
Nicolle was born with a cleft lip and palate.
“The doctors just looked at me but said nothing,” Jessica said. “Then, one approached me and asked if I knew my baby would be born with a problem. I became very scared.”
Learning that their baby will be born with a cleft condition can be heartbreaking for many parents to hear. However, becoming aware early on in the pregnancy often gives families something invaluable: time.
Time that can be used to discover available surgical solutions by researching hospitals and local medical organisations. It’s also time that parents can use to emotionally prepare themselves for the difficult journey ahead.
Sadly, time was something that Jessica and her husband didn’t have.
Not once during any of Jessica’s prenatal check-ups and ultrasounds was Nicolle’s cleft condition revealed.
“The doctor didn’t even want to tell me the sex of my baby,” Jessica said. “I didn’t know what the doctors were talking about when they told me my baby had been born with a cleft lip and cleft palate.”
Neither parent had ever seen someone with a cleft condition before.
Questions surrounding Nicolle’s cleft lip remained unanswered as Jessica and Maynor left the hospital – no one explained to them why their daughter had been born with a cleft.
Arriving home led to even more challenges and more uncertainty.
Nicolle’s cleft condition made breastfeeding difficult and Jessica admitted that one of the toughest aspects of having a child with a cleft lip was coping with the discrimination and rejection from members of their community.
“It was a very difficult time as we watched the other couples celebrating the birth of their babies, while we felt lost and were inconsolable,” Jessica said.
With the knowledge that surgery was possible, Maynor and Jessica researched organisations near their home for several months, hoping to find a way to repair Nicolle’s cleft lip and give her the life they knew she deserved.
For a long time, they were left without answers.
Nicolle smiles wide at her father, Maynor. Photo: Erin Lubin.
“We were constantly worried about how we could afford surgery on our police salaries,” Maynor said. “We wondered what her life would be like as she grew.”
Jessica and Maynor’s concern for their daughter only intensified after learning that Jessica’s mother had previously given birth to two sons with cleft conditions – both of whom later died in infancy.
But despite their fear and uncertainty about the future, their love for Nicolle motivated them to continue fighting for her.
In an instant, the lives of the family changed forever when Nicolle’s grandmother saw an announcement for Operation Smile in the newspaper informing people about the cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries it provides at no cost to its patients.
Hoping that it was the solution they had been searching for, Maynor and Jessica called to schedule an appointment for Nicolle. They were asked to come to an upcoming medical mission in Guatemala City before the call finished.
“When we arrived for Nicolle’s medical evaluation, we were received with love and understanding,” Jessica said. “Everyone from the Operation Smile team took great care of us and made us feel comfortable and calm.”
After performing a comprehensive health evaluation on Nicolle, the Operation Smile volunteer medical team was pleased to inform Jessica and Maynor that their daughter was healthy enough for a free, safe surgery.
During the moments leading up to Nicolle’s surgery, Jessica and Nicolle’s grandmother began to cry and expressed their worries about Nicolle being too young to undergo the procedure.
“She and Jessica were very scared about the surgery,” Maynor said. “However, the doctors were very understanding and encouraged us to be calm and said that everything was going to be fine.”
Later that same day, the entire family watched as Nicolle bravely entered the operating room.
“The hope that she was going to be perfect kept us strong,” Maynor said.
Nicolle shows off her new smile six months after her cleft lip surgery. Photo: Erin Lubin.
After receiving a surgery that can take as little as 45 minutes, Nicolle now has a beautiful new smile that will last a lifetime.
She later underwent additional surgery on her cleft palate at a future Operation Smile medical mission.
Nicolle three years after surgery. Photo: Carlos Rueda.
Today, eight years after receiving her life-changing cleft lip surgery, Nicolle is a lively young girl who enjoys attending school and her dance classes on Saturdays.
“We wish to thank everyone. The team, donors and companies who support Operation Smile,” Jessica said. “Nicolle now has a normal life. She’s a happy little girl who loves to play and is always smiling. We’re very grateful to Operation Smile because they changed Nicolle’s life and ours as well.”
Nicolle today. Photo: Carlos Rueda.