Worldwide, it is estimated that a child is born every three minutes with a cleft. Oftentimes, a Cleft Lip can be easy to see, as it is an opening in the lip. However, it can be harder to know if someone has a Cleft Palate, as it affects the roof of the mouth.
Jan was born with both a Cleft Lip and a Cleft Palate. He was able to have his Cleft Lip repaired at just 2 months old, but his plastic surgeon, Dr. Geslani, said that Jan would have to wait until he was older for his palate surgery. Some time later, Jan’s mother Norayda heard that Operation Smile was coming to a nearby hospital to provide free surgeries for children with Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate. Excitedly, Norayda brought her son to the screening day to see if he would be eligible for surgery. Amazed, she looked around and saw countless families with children who had Cleft Lips and Cleft Palates. Jan was not alone.
After a tense wait, Norayda was overcome with relief when her son was chosen for surgery. The Operation Smile medical volunteers came together, and after a successful surgery, Jan was able to return home in his mother’s arms with a repaired palate and complete smile.
With his new palate Jan spoke perfectly, and his Cleft Lip repair was barely noticeable. Sadly, he was still teased and physically bullied throughout Elementary and High School. Never wanting to upset his mother, Jan did not tell Norayda about the harassment that he was experiencing every day. The first time that Norayda heard about her son’s pain was when he opened up during this interview. Jan stayed strong and studied hard, and the worst of the bullying came to an end when Jan started a degree in Hospitality Management. It was whilst studying that Jan met his beautiful girlfriend, Theresa. Jan graduated from his degree in 2009, and then he and Theresa learned they were expecting their first child.
Cleft Lips and Cleft Palate can be hereditary. Knowing this, the couple nervously went in for their 6 month ultrasound, breaths held. Unfortunately, their baby, Peter Jan, would be born with a Cleft Lip.
Some time after Peter Jan was born, Theresa saw on television that Operation Smile would be conducting a mission in Silay in only 3 short months. Time went slowly as Jan and Theresa waited in anticipation.
Finally, the family along with Norayda, now a Grandmother and known as La Lola, travelled to the hospital together. In a replay of what Norayda had experienced so many years before, Theresa looked around. She could not believe how many other families were waiting to see the Operation Smile team.
She remained hopeful that Peter Jan would be selected for surgery, and Jan knew that it could help to change his son’s life. To their immense joy, Peter Jan was scheduled for surgery.
As the family sat in the waiting room, Co-Founder of Operation Smile Australia, Dr. Richard Lewandowski, walked towards them. He had spotted Jan’s scar from his Cleft Lip repair, all those years ago. Dr. Lewandowski told Jan that whilst his repair looked good, it could be improved with a simple surgery. At first, Jan was in shock. He hadn’t expected to receive any care for his own Cleft Lip, and his primary concern was his son. However, Dr. Lewandowski explained that Peter Jan would receive his surgery first and then on the following day, Jan could be admitted for his. Anxiously, Jan agreed. He was nervous to revisit his past, but was excited for the future of his son, his family, and now, himself.
Together, father and son received free, life-changing surgeries from Operation Smile. The family was overjoyed, and to everyone’s surprise, Peter Jan sat up on his own for the very first time! On the last day of the mission, Norayda, Jan, Theresa and Peter Jan returned home feeling joyous and proud, ready to live full and happy lives.