Cincinnati surgeon transforms Guatemalan girl with rare birth defect

Child with rare birth defect transformed

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A 1-year-old girl from Guatemala was born with a rare condition that not only affects her quality of life, it also drastically impacts her appearance.

But now she's starting a new beginning, thanks to a care team at a Cincinnati hospital.

Raquel Cabrera has always been the same happy, joyous, child, but her appearance has undergone an incredible transformation.

Raquel has a birth defect that has altered her life in more ways than one.

The rare facial cleft was essentially a hole in her face that made breathing and eating difficult and left her with the challenge of facing a world not always kind and understanding.

Her mother, Hilcy Cabrera, said people in their native country sometimes called the girl a "monster," although she has always believed her child is beautiful.

"I separated her out from society because I did not want people to mistreat her," said Hilcy.

Getting the right medical care is almost impossible in Guatemala, and for Hilcy, unaffordable.

"Sadly, I've seen a couple of kids who had similar kinds of things that passed away before we could get to them in Guatemala," said Dr. Christopher Gordon, a plastic surgeon with Dayton Children's Hospital and the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital for Children.

Gordon said he learned about Raquel from a fellow doctor who had traveled to Guatemala on a mission.

Cincinnati Shriners wanted to help, but doesn't offer neurosurgery, so Dr. Gordon convinced Dayton Children's to take on the first part of her treatment for free.

"She had very unusual anatomy that I'd never seen before with bones stuck inside of her brain and unusual blood vessels inside of her brain that made it quite touchy," he said.

It took the team hours to take Raquel's face apart and put it back together. They adjusted her eyes, nose, and lip. After she recovered, she moved to Shriners where they used a device to alter her jaw and chin.

"She's been breathing well and starting to want to eat everything by mouth," Gordon said.

In January, Raquel will need another surgery. She will likely have to continue having surgeries until she is in her mid-teens.

Until it's time to return to Ohio, Raquel and her mother are heading home to reunite with family, including Raquel's twin.

Raquel's mom said she can't wait to show her daughter off.

"These are the angels for our kids, and we just have to look for them," said Hilcy.

All of Raquel's procedures and surgeries at Shriners have been at no cost to her family.

If you or a family/child you know is in need of plastic and reconstructive services like Raquel, contact Shriners at 855-206-2096 or via the Shriners website.

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