Ingrid Rios Makes Cleft Care Fun

She learned it all from her daughter

When Dr. Ingrid Rios first meets a couple snuggling a baby with a cleft, their fear clear as the gap under their newborn’s nose, she gives them two pieces of advice: Be consistent and have fun.

Be consistent because if you leave halfway through treatment, your child will see none of the results. Have fun because we are going to learn a lot together and I promise you things will get better.

If they are sceptical, she tells them her story. When her daughter was born with a cleft, she wore the same face as her new patients. But as her little girl grew and had surgeries and other essential treatments like orthodontics, psychological support, and speech therapy, Ingrid could hardly believe what a healthy, self-assured young woman she had become or that her smile could possibly be so dazzling. She is now 19 and thriving.

“Working with these children gives me the opportunity to put everything I know into practice,” Ingrid said, “to teach, to share my experience, and to give them hope as well.”

Now she works as a cleft-specialised speech therapist in schools and at Fundación Ayninakuna, her local Smile Train partner. There, she helps these children receive a full spectrum of care, particularly speech therapy, for as long as they need to speak clearly and with confidence.

“Communication helps a lot of children, and mainly young people,” she explained. “Later, when they communicate better, they are encouraged, they are happy, they are more open to society in general.”

Contrary to popular belief, it usually takes more than a single surgery to heal a cleft. Babies with clefts often cannot feed and need nutritional support so they can stay alive long enough to receive surgery. Even after that first surgery, most still require years of specialised orthodontic and dental work, speech therapy, and psychosocial care, in addition to many more surgeries.

That’s why, instead of flying outside doctors into — then out of — areas of need on short-term medical missions, Smile Train pioneered a different approach: Funding, training, and equipping passionate local experts like Ingrid and her team to make full-service, world-class cleft care available everywhere on earth, 100 % free for families in need.

The results speak for themselves: In the 25 years since our founding, we’ve sponsored more than two million life-changing cleft surgeries — more than every other charity combined — in 95+ countries, contributing more than $69 billion to the global economy.

Behind those huge numbers lie the countless small, intimate interactions Smile Train partners like Ingrid have with their neighbours in need each day.

Read more stories for Cleft Awareness Month

Elsa holding hands with a Smile Train patient and her mother at Fundación Ayninakuna in Sucre, Bolivia

Elsa Heals Clefts by Healing Families

Inside the work of a Smile Train-partner social worker

Telma checking a child’s teeth

Dr. Telma Carnicer Sets Teeth — and Misconceptions — Straight

It takes so much more than a surgery to heal a cleft

Two smiling guests in the waiting room at Ayninakuna

Setting the Standard for Cleft Treatment in Bolivia and Beyond

At Fundación Ayninakuna, doctors and staff are committed to patients and families for the long haul

In her words, “The support that Smile Train gives us is important on an economic level, especially with families, for the surgeries. In the case of other professionals, we have benefitted with training. The comprehensive cleft care gives us a complete perspective of the family and the child and the needs they have.

“What I like most about my job is being able to interact with the children, play, make them have fun and make them feel self-confident. I also like working with young people and seeing how their attitudes change and with the families when they feel happy. To see the results is what fulfills me the most, I really like it.”

Give the gift of life, health, confidence, and smiles to a child in need today.