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Paulwin: A Daughter’s Cleft, a Family’s Journey

When Paulwin couldn’t eat, neither could her mother. Now they are both smiling



Paulwin smiling and holding a picture of herself before cleft surgery

Rebecca had spent nine months dreaming of the moment she would meet her baby. When the moment came and she held little Paulwin at last, the rush of emotion was beyond anything she could have ever prepared for.

“I was scared, sad, and overwhelmed”, she shared.

Paulwin had a cleft. It pained Rebecca not because she had any thought of rejecting her new daughter, but because she loved her so much. As she held her screaming child, the hospital staff unloaded one terrible thought after another onto her. They said she was underweight and would need special care. They said she might even die of malnutrition, like so many other babies with clefts.

“We cried as much as the baby did”, Rebecca said.

Once home, Rebecca struggled to feed Paulwin. Every time she tried, milk dribbled up her nose or down her throat, choking her. Her family was supportive, but there was nothing they could do besides pray. Prem, her husband, barely made enough to feed their two older children, let alone provide for Rebecca’s parents, grandparents, and two sisters, who all lived together with them under one much-too-small roof.

A new mother’s empathy is total. Already crying as much as her baby, Rebecca likewise could hardly swallow a morsel of food for two weeks.

Then, when Paulwin was about a month old and barely clinging to life, a stranger told the family that clefts could be surgically healed and recommended they seek out a hospital for a solution. They thought they could never afford it, but also knew they had nothing to lose.

The trio soon ended up at Amendeep Hospital, where the staff told them that, thanks to their partnership with an organisation called Smile Train, Paulwin’s cleft surgery — and all other vital cleft care she would ever need to live, grow, and thrive — would be provided completely free for as long as she needed it.

“It was a ray of light for us”, Prem said. “A hope our child might heal”.

The doctors explained exactly what the surgery would entail and what would come next. Still, when the day for Paulwin’s surgery arrived, Rebecca struggled to hand her frail newborn over to strangers, even ones she trusted.

It felt like a lifetime, an eternity. Rebecca worried she wouldn’t survive the surgery.

Just over an hour later, Paulwin returned, not only alive, but with a whole new lease on life.

“Seeing her afterwards with a bandage on her lip, I felt a rush of positive energy. My baby was not just alive but well”, said Rebecca.

Paulwin after cleft surgery
Paulwin just after cleft surgery

At last, Paulwin could take in milk and grow healthy and strong.

But cleft surgery could not be the end of Paulwin’s cleft treatment or of her relationship with the team at Amendeep. Her teeth were still severely misaligned. Learning to speak without a roof to her mouth made her difficult to understand even years later.

That’s why Smile Train works closely with our partners to ensure our patients always have access to the full range of high-quality care they need to not only smile but thrive, right in their own backyards.

Paulwin smiling behind a curtain after cleft surgery
Paulwin is ready to make her debut on the world stage

As Paulwin grew, she received follow-up surgery on her cleft palate, then personalised orthodontic treatment. For the past few years, she has eagerly attended weekly speech therapy sessions at Amendeep and leaves each one with boosted confidence that shows in her smile. And in her parents’.

“My face and speech get better and better. I smile because my teeth are aligned”, she said.

Paulwin looking up and smiling after cleft surgery
Now 11, Paulwin knows there’s nothing she can’t accomplish

“The change is drastic as she can voice sound clearly without glottal stops and nasal twangs”, marvelled Prem.

Paulwin smiling with her parents Rebecca and Prem after her cleft surgery
Rebecca and Prem with Paulwin

Paulwin and her family see their story as proof that help and hope can come at any time from any place — and are committed to being that help and hope for other families in need. Prem recently saw a boy with a cleft from their part of India on TikTok and sent him Amendeep’s contact information.

Paulwin smiling and studying a notebook
Paulwin is determined to study hard to achieve her dreams

Paulwin dreams of growing up to become a doctor because, “Doctors have treated me, so I wish to cure people and make them smile”.

Paulwin smiling with her mother Rebecca after her cleft surgery
Rebecca and Paulwin have been bonded from their first moment together

And as for Rebecca, she has a message for Smile Train donors around the world, who saved her baby’s life: “Thank you. We couldn't have made it without you. Everything was there for us - surgeries, medication, hospital stay, and food. I pray for your good health and happiness”.