In developing countries, cleft palate is a widely misunderstood disability. Superstition and fear often leads to name calling and ostracization. On the streets they are called hont katiya, or split-lip, by children, “devil-touched” and “cursed by God” by their peers. These labels destroy their chances for attending school, becoming married or finding a career and often leads to a life of destitution as an outcast in their village.
José lived this way for 19 years, covering his face with a bandana in public to avoid the attention. And then in 2011, he heard about Esperança’s upcoming surgical mission coming to the town of Jinotega that specialized in correcting cleft palate. José walked for 5 days, to see if this might be his shot at changing the course of his life.
José arrived at the hospital the night before Esperança volunteer surgeon, Dr. Nicholas Retson and his team were to arrive. He was exhausted and hungry and slept on the hospital floor. Jose met with Dr. Retson the next day, scared and unwilling to smile, fearing Dr. Retson would not take his case.
But Dr. Retson did take José as a patient. In fact Jose’s was the first surgery the team performed, and it was a huge success. After resting a couple days in the hospital to regain his strength, José was given bus fare for the journey home and to begin again, healed and confident about his future.
Because of the generosity of Esperança supporters and the dedication of Dr. Retson and his team, José can now look forward to the possibilities that are now open to him… which just might be a Valentine’s Day kiss!