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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Charity gives new smiles to children with cleft lips 

Operation Smile and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi operated on 12 children whose families could not afford the operations they needed

Operation Smile and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi have teamed up to help children with cleft palate and cleft lip deformities. This is Zack Guarino, who is recovering after his operation. Victor Besa / The National 
Operation Smile and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi have teamed up to help children with cleft palate and cleft lip deformities. This is Zack Guarino, who is recovering after his operation. Victor Besa / The National 

Bernadette Guarino saw her two-year-old son smile for the first time and there was "nothing in the world more beautiful".

Her son, Zack Guarino, was born with a cleft lip and palate — a condition that results because a baby's facial tissues have not joined properly during development.

“I found out when I was six months pregnant that my son had a cleft lip and palate,” she said.

The mother, originally from The Philippeans, said her initial reaction was fear.

Zack is Mrs Guarino's youngest child, and has three older sisters.

“I was immediately worried about his future,” she said.

“I was worried about bullying and the difficult life ahead of him. In the Philippines, I had seen many kids who were constantly bullied and made fun of because of their cleft lip. I didn’t want that for my son.”

Zack and his parents, Ruel and Bernadette Guarino. Victor Besa / The National 
Zack and his parents, Ruel and Bernadette Guarino. Victor Besa / The National 

In children with cleft lips, the lip is physically split in two, leaving a hole that extends to the nose, while a cleft palate is a split or opening in the roof of the mouth. Children may have either or both.

Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate.

Mrs Guarino is currently unemployed and her husband earns less than Dh5,000 per month. They were told that corrective surgery could cost up to Dh40,000.

“There was no way we could afford the operation,” her husband Ruel Guarino said.

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Ms Guarino contacted Operation Smile, a non-profit that provides free cleft lip and palate repair surgeries to children worldwide.

Last week, Zack and 12 other children had their surgeries done thanks to around 200 volunteers from Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

“My son had his surgery on Friday. It was the first time that we saw him smile and it was the most beautiful thing in the world,” said Mrs Guarino, with tears in her eyes.

The journey is not over yet, however — Zack will require further surgeries to his palate, which Operation Smile in co-operation with CCAD hope to complete soon.