When Sondos was born, shock rippled through her family like an earthquake. None of her relatives had ever seen or heard of a cleft before. When Hend, her mother, tried to nurse her, she choked on the milk. What she didn’t choke on dribbled out her nose. She spent her first days and nights crying with hunger.
Lost in a fog of heartbreak and trauma, all the family had left was their faith. That was all they needed. Through it, Hend found the strength to go out to seek help for Sondos. The baby was 15 days old and clinging to life by a thread when the first ray of hope appeared — Hend found a bottle for feeding newborns with clefts. That discovery led to an even greater one — Sondos could receive all the cleft care she would ever need completely free because a local hospital was a Smile Train partner. She had her first free cleft surgery when she was four months old, and her second when she was 11 months. They saved her life.
You Have to Be Brave
When Sondos was five, her mother, aunt Heba, and her younger sister were hit by a reckless driver while crossing the street. Her mother died a week later; her sister and aunt survived.
The combined trauma of losing his wife and having to raise two girls on his own was too much for her father. He ran away, dropping the responsibility on Aunt Heba. Though without a husband or a job, she proved herself strong enough for the task.
As Heba struggled to find work, Sondos struggled with seemingly everything. Though no longer visible, her cleft still garbled her speech and caused her teeth to grow in crooked, which made chewing difficult. No one sat next to her in school; many avoided having any contact with her at all, except to gawk at the way she ate. Unresolved grief from the loss of her parents clung to her like her shadow.
Thankfully, she never faced these struggles alone. “My aunt supports me so much and pushes me to be better, and I have to be brave for my sister, who looks up to me,” she said. “Also, Smile Train empowered me to keep going; they helped me feel comfortable socially.”
Timely Care: The Difference Between Life and Death
Early intervention is everything for children with clefts. As Sondos proves, it can mean the difference between life and death for a newborn. But even at later stages, receiving speech therapy, orthodontics, and other care at the right time can be the difference between thriving and merely surviving. It’s why Smile Train innovated a model of empowering local experts in cleft care, so our patients can receive the care they need at the time best for them, not foreign doctors on mission trips.
Straightening Her Life Out
When Sondos turned nine, she began personalized orthodontic treatment at Smile Train partner Kids Hospital in Cairo with Dr. Mohamed Abd El Ghafour, a world-leading expert with a Ph.D. in cleft orthodontics. She was shy when they first met, but, as he made her teeth straighter and chewing easier, she opened up to him and became more confident.
“Sondos is rapidly progressing in her treatment plan. She is articulating words better and her teeth are getting better with the help of Dr. Mohamed,” Heba said.
A Blueprint for Success
Today, Sondos is thriving. She is excelling at school, and when not there or hanging out with her many friends, she is usually home making art, a passion she plans to one day parlay into a career as an engineer. After all she has already accomplished, she has no doubt she will achieve her goal.
“She’s more confident, socially accepted. She has higher grades at school now, and her teachers really cherish her perseverance,” said Heba. “I want everyone who donates to Smile Train to know that they mean the world to us. Without you, Sondos could never have received all the care she got. Finding this organization was a turning point in all of our lives, and we now feel hopeful about her future.”
Sondos says it best. “I feel great because my speech has improved big time and now I’m chewing food better, too. I also enjoy meeting other kids like me at the hospital. We are getting better because of the comprehensive cleft care Smile Train makes possible. Now I can speak better, eat better, smile better, and hear better. Because of the treatment I got, people who meet me today never recognize that I was born with a cleft.
“I thank all of Smile Train’s donors from the deep bottom of my heart. I’m really grateful to them because they are helping me live a better life.”