Facial Abnormalities

Treating Facial Abnormalities of the Third World

Facial abnormalities occur in as many as 2% of births.  Of these, one of the most common is cleft palate or cleft lip.  Cleft palate is a birth defect that happens when the roof of the mouth hasn’t fully developed by the time of birth.  Children with this condition look as if their upper lips are unzipped or missing just below their noses.

Here in the United States, this condition is commonly treated by surgery administered during the first year of life.  In the Third World, however, where medical infrastructure and economic resources are not as plentiful, the problem of cleft palate often goes un-addressed, causing untold harm to the innocent victims.  So it is not uncommon to come across a person of limited means in Latin or Central American that has not had their facial abnormalities treated.  

Let’s take a look at the hardship this condition can impose on those already on the bottom rungs of society’s social ladder:

Maria, A Case Study

Maria was born in one of the small, unmapped villages in the mountainous region of Guatemala. Born with the help of a midwife in her mother’s home, Maria’s facial abnormalities were evident from her very first day in the hard world of rural poverty that is the condition of so many in Central America. 

Early in Maria’s academic short career Maria’s mother pulled her out of the local village school and kept her at home.  Maria’s cleft palate kept her from speaking properly.  The stigma of Maria’s facial deformity and the constant teasing that it and the speech impediment engendered in Maria’s young classmates made Maria sullen and withdrawn.  Afraid to draw attention to herself and tired of the struggle to be understood when she did speak, Maria accepted her more limited role as her mother’s home-helper.

As Maria grew, however, she started to miss other opportunities as well.  Her lack of school and difficulty speaking limited her career paths and when she, like so many, migrated to the city in search of work, Maria felt lucky to find a position as a seamstress in a sweatshop.  But Maria’s difficulties limited her personal choices as well.

Although Maria was a lovely, otherwise healthy girl, she was simply overlooked by boys who found Maria’s unsightly deformity a deal breaker when it came to romantic relationships.  Maria’s own sense of self-worth was deeply affected by her treatment and Maria came to accept her role as daughter, sister and helper while putting away her dreams of having a family or career of her own.

A Ray of Hope

Maria is not a real person but an amalgam of many Latin Americans who live their lives with the devastating effects of cleft palate.  Girls like Maria, however, need not live such limited lives.  There are organizations that are specifically geared to help treat and correct the facial abnormalities of the poor in Latin and Central America.

One such group is Miles of Smiles, who recently joined with the American Organization of Plastic Surgeons to try to help Guatemalan girls and boys like Maria live very different lives.  Miles of Smiles raised over a million dollars to help fund an intervention in Guatemala.  Volunteers from the AOPS left their comfortable lives in North America and devoted a few weeks to helping correct cleft palate in a number of Guatemalan locals who would otherwise have been forced by their financial condition to leave their facial abnormalities untreated.

There is no measure for how many lives such efforts effect.

If you are interested in finding out how you can help, just Google “Miles of Smiles in Guatemala” and find out how you might start a fund raiser in your local community for the next Miles of Smiles intervention in Guatemala.  You too can help in the fight against the devastation of facial abnormalities and bring much-deserved smiles to the faces of those with the least in this world.