If you meet Sonali today, you will probably never suspect the arduous journey she and her family faced in the initial months of her life.
“We had lost hope,” recalls Sonali’s mother, “My daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate, and I had not seen anything like this in my life before. My husband and I were already going through mental turmoil as our family had rejected Sonali due to her cleft, and Sonali’s failing health only added to our despair. She looked so thin and frail and would cry the entire day. As her mother, I used to feel so helpless.”
Sonali was the first child in the family with a cleft. Once the news broke, people within and outside her family abandoned her and her parents, putting the blame entirely on the mother. The societal challenges had just hit when her mother realized Sonali was unable to latch during breastfeeding, despite her best efforts. Embarrassed and afraid of being judged, she didn't dare seek help. Eventually, she stopped producing breastmilk, putting Sonali at risk of becoming malnourished. She started feeding her new-born diluted goat milk but that, too, did not help. Days went by, and like hundreds of children with clefts, Sonali’s condition started deteriorating and the family had neither the knowledge nor the resources to seek medical care for their baby.
But even this cloud had a silver lining. A local Anganwadi Worker advised Sonali’s parents to visit Narsinghpur District Hospital immediately for treatment. From the District Hospital, they got to know about the free cleft treatment Smile Train sponsors at Dube Surgical and Dental Hospital in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.
At Dube Surgical and Dental Hospital, Sonali was immediately attended by the pediatrician, cleft surgeon, nutritionist, and nurses. On her 65th day, Sonali weighed only 2.2 kgs. She was so frail that her ribs were entirely visible. After thoroughly examining Sonali's health, the doctor diagnosed her with severe acute malnutrition and prescribed treatment.
The staff assured Sonali’s parents that her cleft is treatable, but surgery won't be possible until her health improves. He then enrolled Sonali in Dube's Smile Train-sponsored nutrition program, where they were supported with nutrition counseling and food supplement packets. They never missed an appointment.
Thanks to this intervention, Sonali’s nutritional status improved within weeks. She also showed a steady improvement in her physical movement and activities — so much so that her doctors soon declared her fit for the surgery. Sonali received her Smile Train-sponsored cleft lip surgery in June 2022.
Sonali is having regular follow-ups now and is likely to undergo her cleft palate surgery soon. The emotional energy that her parents carry today is contagious! Sonali is lucky that she has such protective parents who are willing to take every single step to make sure that their little girl comes to the hospital to receive treatment for as long as she needs it.
At Smile Train, every transformation story is unique. We wish Sonali all the best and can't wait to watch her grow and integrate into society!