Life-Changing Surgery Helps Teen Go From Hiding In The Bathroom To Singing Loud.

Sofia Salazar

Singing is one of the purest ways to express joy, yet for most of her life, Sofia Zalazar was too shy to lift her voice in song.


The high school junior from Argentina was born with a cleft, so expressing herself vocally was difficult growing up. The other children at her school harassed her for the way she spoke, and she struggled to feel like she fit in.

Sofia Zalazar
Smile Train

Sofia was fitted for a pharyngeal prosthesis, called a bulb, that fit inside her mouth to help her form sounds more accurately. While Sofia began to make great progress in speaking clearly, she still felt embarrassed around her classmates.

During school lunches, she didn’t want any of them to see her remove her bulb so she could eat. So she would slip into the bathroom before the meal to remove it, and then remain silent throughout lunch while her peers chatted and laughed all around her. The process made her feel lonely and excluded even when she was surrounded by others.

Sofia Zalazar and her family at home
Smile Train

When she was 15, Sofia learned that Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft charity, would sponsor local professionals at nearby Notti Hospital to perform the surgery she had waited so long for. She was overjoyed at the prospect of ditching her bulb for good and living a confident life.

“When I found out I could receive the surgery, I was super happy because I was finally going to be able to finish my treatment and finally speak well,” she said.

Sofia Zalazar picking grapes
Smile Train

Now, Sofia no longer requires a bulb! Not to mention, the surgery and ensuing therapies and treatments Smile Train also sponsored resulted in permanent speech improvements that made an immediate positive impact on the teenager’s daily life.

“Thanks to the support that Smile Train gives Notti Hospital, I completed my treatment, including speech therapy, dentistry, surgeries, transportation costs, and everything I needed to complete it,” she said. “Now I feel self-confident. I talk a lot, send audio messages to everyone, and even sing.”

Sofia Zalazar
Smile Train

After Sofia shared a few verses of her favorite song in a Smile Train video, something truly remarkable happened. Sebastián Yatra, the Colombian singer and songwriter who wrote the hit, saw the video and recorded a special message just for her!

“Thank you for giving me that much love,” he told Sofia. “I hope these songs will always fill your heart with beautiful things. God bless you. I wish you the best of luck, and keep moving forward. You have so much to give.”

Sofia was so thrilled by Sebastián’s message – and by the incredible impact her own voice made!

The very fact that Sofia went from hiding her voice to singing her favorite song for the world shows the transformative power of these life-changing cleft treatments. Smile Train has helped more than 1.5 million children like Sofia, and with help from people like you, they can continue to help smiles heal families all over the world.

Learn more about Sofia and hear part of her song in the video below, and don’t forget to share this story to spread the word.

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