“I Have Heard Many Terrible, Heartbreaking Stories…” Woman Finds Support After Welcoming Two Daughters With Birth Differences. “We Simply Could Not Believe Our Luck.”

Mom and dad smiling with their 2 and 6 year old's who both have clefts.

When Maricel and her husband, Ernie, welcomed two daughters with clefts into the world, they were met with support from their families. Still, their children’s health suffered, and they worried about their 6 and 2 year old’s futures. They couldn’t afford the procedures they needed on their own but, thanks to the help of local experts connected with Smile Train, that wasn’t an issue. Read this family’s story in Maricel’s own words below.


I didn’t know my first child, Ernie, Jr., would have a cleft until I held her for the first time. But I didn’t panic. I had seen other children with clefts around our community before, so it didn’t seem strange. One of her grandfathers has a cleft, so I figured it must be genetic.

Ernie Jr. smiling as she sits in her dad's lap. Dad, Earnie Sr., is sitting on a bed.
Smile Train

I have heard many terrible, heartbreaking stories of fathers rejecting their babies and wives after their baby is born with a cleft, but, of course, my husband, Ernie, Sr. loved our little Ernie from the moment he laid eyes on her. It didn’t even occur to him to no longer give her his name when he saw her cleft. Our whole family, likewise, has been nothing but supportive and helpful.

When Ernie was three-and-a-half, our second daughter, Ermalen, was born, also with a cleft – I guess that gene must be very strong in our family! Once again, our whole family rallied to support us and our now two little girls with clefts.

Earnie Jr. wraps her arm around her little sister, Ermalen, as the pose for a photo.
Smile Train

Ernie was a generally healthy baby even with her cleft, but it was hard to understand her when she spoke, and she frequently got infections. We also worried about her starting school – as a girl who looks different, we knew her classmates would not be nearly as kind to her as we are. Naturally, we also didn’t want Ermalen to ever have to suffer any of this. Both girls needed surgery at the soonest possible time.

Side-view of Earnie Jr. and Ermalen. The two of them are smiling as they hand each other juice pouches.
Smile Train

Thankfully, just as things here started opening up from the pandemic, we learned that our girls could receive free cleft surgeries from the local experts at Philippine Band of Mercy hospital nearby.

I now consider May 19, 2022 the best day of my life, as that is the day each of my daughters received their cleft surgeries. When we saw them come out of the operating room that day, Ernie, Sr., and I both gasped and cried. We couldn’t believe these were our little girls; we simply could not believe our luck.

Marciel, Earnie Sr., Earnie Jr., and Ermalen sit and stand around a table as someone helps them complete a pre-surgical consultation at Philippine Band of Mercy Hospital.
Smile Train

My whole family and I send endless thanks and blessings to Smile Train and its donors because we never could have been able to afford even one of these surgeries on our own, let alone two. I now see a bright future ahead for both Ernie and Ermalen. I hope they will use the second chance you have given them to go to school and graduate with a good education. I want them to grow with confidence and to believe in themselves because you have taught them that they no longer need luck, because with kindness, all things are possible.

Marciel, Earnie Sr., Earnie Jr., and Ermalen stand outside, all of them smiling. The kids have had cleft surgery and are holding their
Smile Train

Thanks to these life-saving surgeries, the future has opened up for Maricel’s children in ways she couldn’t have imagined. And with continued support, Smile Train can help many more families just like them, all around the world. Share their story of hope to help them do just that.

Want to be happier in just 5 minutes a day? Sign up for Morning Smile and join over 455,000+ people who start each day with good news.