The One

Thirteen-month-old Mario came to ICSF’s Guatemala City mission late. I first became aware of Mario’s presence in the room when we were seeing the last of the children with cleft lips and palates and had a nearly full schedule. I was asked to come to the other side of the large clinic room, where I saw a young father holding a child in a blanket, the mother at his side. I could not see the child at first because a small crowd of clinic workers and nurses had crowded around, a tip-off that someone very unusual was being held within the colorful blanket.

With great interest, I walked toward the gathering and asked if I could get close to see what all the fuss was about. As I came into viewing range of who was in the blanket, my first thought was, “What a ghastly deformity!” There in front of me was a child with a large split of the face—not the lip, but the face! A cleft of the face was something I had seen and treated before but not to this degree of severity.

13-month-old Mario with rare facial cleft, before surgery

We learned that the boy’s name was Mario. It was suggested to us that Mario’s case was so severe that the amount of time it would take for a surgery would preclude a number of other more simple cases and that we should therefore not accept the boy as a patient.

Upon hearing this, however, it occurred to me that ICSF is known for caring for “the one.” On a past occasion I had traveled to Africa for a single patient with a severe defect that the local doctors did not have the expertise to handle. Although we were able to treat other patients on that African trip, I had felt very gratified to be able to make such an effort for “the one.” I learned that the little boy in front of me had already been rejected by a large American team due to the severity of his deformity. It touched me that Mario had been brought to our mission in search of help. I realized that Mario’s case was the kind that ICSF accepts because of our level of commitment. There really wasn’t much more to think about — Mario would be our patient!

As I announced that we would schedule surgery for Mario, his parents looked at each other with a smile. Special tests were taken, and an entire day was created on the schedule for Mario without having to cancel other patients’ surgeries.

Mario, one week after his 9-hour surgery by ICSF for his rare facial cleft

Mario’s day came on a Tuesday. The ICSF anesthesia team was headed by Dr. Eric Holley, a pediatric anesthesia expert from Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. Special considerations were made to ensure safe anesthesia and a safe surgery. Although everyone seemed anxious as the surgery began, a feeling of calm soon pervaded the operating room.

More than nine hours later Mario opened his eyes with his new face. The ICSF team had risen to the occasion to help “the one” that could have so easily been left behind. In usual ICSF fashion, part of the team was still there the week after completion of surgeries to evaluate Mario’s healing.

All the news was good — and to top it off, Mario gave the team a little smile. As Mario’s mother carried him out of the exam room I felt very glad, as I have felt many times before, that we had helped “the one.” Thank you, ICSF’s supporters, for enabling us to help little Mario and his family. Yes, everyone, including “the one,” was “Born to Smile.”

Dr. Geoff Williams
President, ICSF
P.O. Box 4594
Boise, Idaho 83711-4594
(208) 375-8132

Design by Melissa Ventura, Development by Drew Bertola and Walter Martin.