Milagros’ Story: Silent to Speaking

Every day Milagros would sit in her classroom listening other students speak and wish it was her. Because of her cleft lip and palate, no one at school could understand Milagros when she tried to communicate. If she ever needed to convey a point, a friend would stand up for her and translate what she meant to say. But despite her embarrassment about her condition, cleft lip and palate, she attended school religiously.

Milagros heard about the FACES surgical campaign to northern Peru through the Lambayeque Lions Club, a strong local partner for the foundation. One of Milagros’ teachers was a member of a the Lions Club, which helps find, transport and feed patients during the surgical campaigns. She attended the screening clinics and has since had three surgeries from the FACES team. Milagros is also the first FACES patient to receive speech-therapy over the Internet using the unique telemedical model that connects speech therapists in Portland, OR, with patients in rural Peru.

“I didn’t even know about speech therapy before FACES came,” says Milagros. “This model, over the Internet, is very good because it’s the only way I could get services like these that will help my speech.”

Motivated and hard-working, Milagros is also an ideal patient. She continued Internet therapy with FACES for three years and, although has formally finished the program, continues to do daily speech exercises by herself. To practice she will record her speech, then listen to the tape to hear any mispronunciations.

Since finishing from the FACES program, Milagros has continued on to college and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. The improvement in Milagros’ self confidence is tangible and she has stayed connected with FACES to help incoming patients who will be going through the same process of surgery and speech therapy that she did. During the 2012 Surgical Trip, Milagros acted as assistant to the patient coordinator, helping with patient check in. The support she offered to families and patients, nervous and unsure about about the surgical process, was invaluable. “I explain to them what this program is all about and help others become motivated to do what I did.”

“It’s difficult,” Milagros says, about not being able to communicate clearly with a cleft lip and palate. “People would make fun of me, but my parents would always say, ‘Keep your head high and move forward.’”

And move forward, she did. Milagros says that even before her therapy she had the best grades in written exams, but couldn’t pull through with the oral tests. “I couldn’t explain anything,” she says.

“But now, after the therapy, I can communicate,” says Milagros. “I am regarded by other engineers and can explain things to them, something I could never do before. It feels good.”

Dr. Tom Albert, FACES Founder, and Milagros.

Milagros gives a speech of thanks in front of the FACES team, hospital staff and the Lions Club at the Surgical Trip banquet in January.

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