Operation Smile helps local family

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- From the very beginning, Liam Soares has been a happy, active baby. Now 7 months old and racing around in his baby walker, it’s obvious he fills his family’s Greensboro home with the best kind of busy. What’s less obvious is that Liam has already been through more than most children his age.

Jessica and Chad Soares found out their son would be born with a cleft lip and possibly cleft palate during routine ultrasounds when Jessica was about four and a half months pregnant.

“We cried a lot,” Jessica said. “It was really stressful, just the fear of the unknown.”

The condition is fairly common, affecting about one in 700 babies born around the world and requires surgery. The more the couple learned, the better they felt.

“We were going to love him just the same regardless, we just wanted the best for him,” Jessica said.

And that’s where Operation Smile comes in. Volunteers with the nonprofit organization perform up to 20,000 surgeries a year at no cost to the patient in 60 countries, including in the Piedmont Triad.

“If somebody asks for help, we’ll help them,” Wendy Rothstein with Operation Smile said. “In my 18 years, I haven’t turned anyone away.”

According to Rothstein, in the United States, some insurance companies don’t cover the procedure, falsely citing that it’s cosmetic.

For the Soares’, having a plan and a good team of doctors in place, put them at ease. And on July 2, the couple welcomed Baby Liam into the world. He was 7 lbs, 7 oz. of perfection, Jessica said. “All I could think about was how beautiful he was.”

At 3 months old, Liam had his first surgery to repair his lip and he’ll have at least two more to repair his partial cleft palate and gum notch.

“Everybody has a story and the outcomes are always really good,” Rothstein said. “It’s a chance at a normal life, not being bullied, not being shamed because a lot of time they have low self-esteem.”

Operation Smile has provided more than 220,000 free surgeries for children and young adults around the world. The organization is holding one of its big fundraising events on Saturday, Feb. 20 in Greensboro called “Dancing with the Carolina Stars.” To donate and vote for your favorite dancer, click here.