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news item News Thursday, February 20, 2020 Thursday, February 20, 2020 1:45 PM - Thursday, February 20, 2020 1:45 PM

Patient receives life-changing surgery after ten years, giving her the self-confidence she never had

Eleven-year-old Mariela's eyes widened with happiness when she saw herself in the mirror after undergoing surgery to correct her congenital cleft lip and palate at the Shriners Medical Center in Pasadena, California.

Caroline Yao, M.D., MS, a specialist in reconstructive plastic surgery at the Shriners Medical Center in Pasadena, said, “It is a great moment when, after the surgery, we give children like Mariela a mirror so they can see the change.” Mariela’s deformity had disappeared, replaced by well-defined lips in a timid smile.

“I felt totally happy to see her like that,” said her mother, Bertina, who could not contain her joy. So much so that she immediately sent photos to her family in Mexico, proud of the change in her daughter’s face. “My husband is super happy,” she said.

Mariela was born in Guerrero, Mexico. Her mother said that she and her husband were very saddened when they saw that their little girl was born with a cleft lip and palate, a congenital deformity that occurs before birth when the tissue that forms the palate and the superior lip does not develop and join them together, which causes an opening in the upper lip. “Ever since she was 3 months, I searched for help in Guerrero, but surgery costs more than 100,000 pesos. We had no money and could not find any donors to help pay for my daughter's surgery,” recalled Bertina.

Mariela developed a speech problem due to her condition, which led schoolmates to mock and bully her. “They always teased her. They called her Chuckie and clown,” said Bertina.

However, their life changed when they decided to move to Sinaloa, a northern state in Mexico. Bertina said that one day some people from the Balderrama Foundation came to visit and brought donations for the San Jose Agricultural Villa, where Bertina and her husband were working.

“A day later, they mentioned Shriners Hospitals for Children and how they specialize in cleft lip and palate care, and offered to sponsor our travel to the U.S. so that Mariela can receive life-changing treatment at the Pasadena Shriners for Children Medical Center. At first, we were afraid, but I wanted the best for my daughter, so I decided to accept the help,” said Bertina. The Balderrama foundation placed her in contact with the Shriners outreach clinic coordinator in Hermosillo, where Dr. Yao met her for the first time. Dr. Yao introduced herself and examined Mariela via telehealth. Dr. Yao informed Bertina that she could help repair Mariela’s cleft lip and palate, but it would take a few surgeries to complete her treatment. Both Mariela and Bertina were excited to hear the news, and agreed to travel to the Pasadena Shriners for Children Medical Center for surgery.

On January 17, Mariela and Bertina boarded a bus in Sinaloa and headed to Los Angeles. After a couple of appointments with a pediatrician, she was scheduled for her pre-op appointment on Friday, January 24, and underwent surgery on Monday, January 27.

Dr. Yao realizes that life for children with cleft lip and palate is difficult because they feel excluded. “They often feel sad and misunderstood. This surgery changes their whole life,” she added. “It is of greater significance for Mariela because she had her surgery done before her adolescence, a difficult stage in life for everyone, and it is worse for children who feel different,” she added. “That surgery helps them regain their self-confidence.”

Normally, the correction of this deformity is performed between the ages of 3 and 6 months, but because of the lack of access, Mariela had to wait 11 years.

The little girl, whose dream is to be a teacher when she grows up, is very happy to see the change in her face.

“I am very happy for my daughter and thankful for all the people who have supported us. From the connection I made with the foundation which sponsored our travel to the care that my daughter received at Shriners Hospitals for Children. It all happened so quickly. I was connected to Shriners in October of 2019. We know this is just the beginning, but her progress is unimaginable,” said Bertina.

Mariela before surgery, cleft lip evidentMariela out of surgery, mom and staff around her