Project #2246

Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Poor Children in Brazil

by Smile Train

After discovering their child had cleft, Davi’s parents thought he’d be alone his whole life.

On top of physical complications, Davi would face daily judgment and discrimination. Leaving little room to ever be himself.

But since neither parent could afford the procedure to repair their son’s smile, there didn’t seem to be anything they could do. Until Davi’s mother found Dr. Marcelo Vacari, who performed Davi’s surgery for free with Smile Train’s support.

And Davi quickly grew into a rambunctious little boy. Naturally curious, he pursues everything from drawing to Judo with a boundless energy that makes him irresistible to be around.

Today, Davi’s mom no longer worries about his ability to make friends. She’s too busy trying to get her little social butterfly to do his homework.


Having provided over 790,000 free cleft surgeries since 1999, people often ask us how we make sure that the surgeries we perform are safe and of a high quality. In the video below, Smile Train Medical Advisory Board Member Dr. Eric Hubli explains our quality control program that he helped set up through our patient medical record database. 


"Hello, I am Dr. Eric Hubli and I am the director of Cranial Facial and Cleft Care at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, TX. I’ve been involved with Smile Train for about 12 years and during that time I’ve come to enjoy my work as a quality director at Smile Train. As an MAB (Medical Advisory Board) member I work with Smile Train to set an international standard in cleft care as Smile Train’s mission is to empower local medical professionals to provide comprehensive, high quality cleft care to the millions of children in the world who otherwise would not receive this kind of treatment. It’s not enough to just fix kids with clefts, we also have to do it safely and give these kids the highest possible care. You may realize at this point it may be tough for us to figure out how well our surgeons are doing. Because of that I developed Smile Train Express, our quality arm that allows us to see the records and the results of every child treated by the Smile Train program. Through Smile Train Express we can review every case that is done around the world to make sure that the children we serve are getting top notch care. And, if the surgeons need a little extra help, we can offer that too. We check and review approximately 10% of the cases that come into Smile Train. This ongoing review allows us to assure that Smile Train is giving the highest quality care around the world. Today I’ve reviewed over 70,000 cases in 80 different countries. I am very pleased to report to you that the level of care that I see is outstanding and the members of Smile Train can be very proud of the results that we are gaining". 


Salvador, Brazil — Two years ago, eight-year-old Taina Dos Santos was a shy girl. Hiding her mouth from strangers and even her family. She would go to school, but was constantly made fun of and teased. When her siblings started to be made fun of for Taina’s cleft lip and palate by their classmates too, it only made it harder for Taina and her family.

Smile Train patient Taina Dos Santos before cleft lip surgeryTaina was born with a severe cleft lip and palate. She had trouble eating and speaking properly. She relied upon her family for compassion and support when she was tormented by the outside world. Before her mother brought her to Smile Train Partner, Fundacion Pequeno Principe, she avoided catching her reflection in a mirror at all costs: ashamed at her birth defect that separated her from her schoolmates.

Smile Train patient Taina after free cleft lip surgery

Tania immediately after her cleft lip surgery

All of that changed on a fateful April day in 2009, when Dr. Geza Laszlo Urmenyi repaired her cleft lip free of charge thanks to Smile Train donors, as her mother Cirlene explained.

The surgeries were a victory for me. My dream since Taina was born has been these surgeries. My daughter and I faced many difficulties to finally find cleft services. All of my children were disturbed at school. After Taina’s first surgery, it didn’t happen anymore and they could study in peace.”

Smile Train patient Tania Dos Santos two years after free cleft lip surgery

Tania just prior to her cleft palate operation, two years after her cleft lip surgery

Cirlene, was unable to bring Taina back to repair her cleft palate until recently, but Taina’s surgery and progress has been followed closely by family and friends who have seen a metamorphosis in their little girl that they never thought was possible.

“Before Taina didn’t look herself in the mirror. Today she is different, she is proud and likes to use lipstick like her classmates. All of my friends and neighbors in the countryside followed Taina’s treatment and got very happy with the result. I cried a lot when I saw my daughter’s operation, but this time, they were tears of joy.”

On behalf of Taina and her family, thank you Dr. Urmenyi, your staff, and everyone who has made Taina’s transformation possible.

Smile Train patient Lucas before and after receiving excellent cleft care

A note from the mother of one of our patients that was given to and translated by our partner CAIF/AFISSUR after the excellent care her son received during his free cleft surgery and follow ups. Here is what it said:

"Lucas is my first child. I got prenatal care in the Public Health System and the ultrasound did not show any problems, so I expected Lucas to be a normal baby. I was really shocked when he was born with a cleft lip and palate. Due to his cleft, he spent eight days in the hospital. At the beginning due to our shock over his cleft and the problems he had nursing, everything was very difficult for me and my family.

“For a long time, I felt guilty for Lucas’ cleft lip and palate. I assumed it was because of the way I acted during the time I was pregnant. However, after arriving at CAIF/AFISSUR, I was welcomed by a team of professionals and heard about Smile Train’s free cleft surgery program.

“With the help of this team and Smile Train, Lucas is getting high quality treatment and he can have a normal life just like other children his age. I don’t have enough words to thank CAIF/AFISSUR and Smile Train.”

Dr Cesar and his mom Dra Vera (hospital director)
Dr Cesar and his mom Dra Vera (hospital director)

Smile Train partner Sobrapar has been featured in this month's issue of the prestigious Journal of Craniofacial Surgery. The article by Sobrapar's lead surgeons, brothers Dr. Cassio Raposo do Amaral and Dr. Cesar Raposo do Amaral, focuses on the hospital's history and partnership with Smile Train as well as their vision for the future of cleft care in Brazil and beyond.

The publishing of this article in one of the world's leading surgical journals is the latest in a number of accolades for the brothers and their team. Founded by their late father, Dr. Cassio Menezes Raposo do Amaral, Sobrapar has been a Smile Train partner since 2001, and has performed more than 1,500 Smile Train sponsored surgeries. The Sobrapar team continues to grow as leaders in the cleft community of Brazil and the world.


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Organization Information

Smile Train

Location: New York - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Smile Train
Project Leader:
Adina Wexelberg-Clouser
Donor Relations Associate
New York, NY United States

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