To love yourself, you need to accept who you are as a person. This is what Shaira, a beneficiary of the Abounding in Love cleft lip charity, realized as she triumphed over the adversities in her life. “If there's someone who needs to accept who I am, it should be me first,” Shaira uttered.
Shaira was born in 2001 at Lanao, Tapilon, Daanbantayan, Cebu City. Her mother, Mary Ann, and father, Felipe, raised her and her 4 siblings. They didn’t have much as her father was a pedicab driver who earned less than 150 pesos ($2.75) a day, and her mother works as a housemaid. However, Shaira grew up happy and loved throughout her childhood.
Shaira was born with a cleft lip condition. Her mother was not surprised because they have a family history of cleft. Her family also noticed abnormalities in Shaira’s breathing pattern. As she was growing up, whenever Shaira did strenuous activities like running, carrying heavy objects, etc., she would easily get exhausted and experience breathing difficulties. For a long time, her mother thought this was normal until she later discovered that it was a symptom of a heart condition.
Although her family gave her special treatment because of her cleft lip and breathing problems, Shaira mostly grew up like any other little girl. She would play games outside, make friends with other kids, and her family loved her dearly. Despite this, she endured discrimination and bullying due to her facial deformity. There were lots of times when she questioned God and asked why He gave her this burden. “I lost my confidence, my self-esteem; I lost myself,” she said.
“I remember we had this neighbor who would constantly bully me from elementary to high school. He would call me names and mock my cleft condition. My father told his parents but the teasing and mocking would continue,” Shaira said. She experienced name-calling and discrimination for years and felt helpless as she could do nothing but cry. Her parents worried, especially because of their daughter’s unknown heart problem. They were afraid that the hurtful words and Shaira’s constant crying could affect her heart.
The mistreatment persisted until Shaira’s older sister finally had enough and punched the bully in the face. Despite her small stature, Shaira’s sister did not hesitate to fight a man for her. Shaira felt blessed to have family who would defend her. She realized that if her sister could be fearless in facing someone bigger and taller than her, she too could be fearless. She was able to see the best of herself with the help of her friends and family who appreciated her for who she truly was.
Shaira loves her family with all of her heart, yet even the people close to our hearts are not perfect. She had a complicated relationship with her father growing up. He was an alcoholic and would spend most of their money to feed his addiction. It got to the point that he was unable to provide for his family. There were times when Shaira felt like he was not her father anymore, as if he was just a stranger living in the same house. He became irritated and angry all the time. Although they lived in the same house, Shaira and her siblings barely talked to their father because of his anger problem.
Help from a Cleft Charity
Over the years, Mary Ann looked for charitable organizations or programs that could help her daughter get free cleft lip surgery. She would enroll Shaira in these programs but she always failed the health screenings due to abnormalities in the laboratory results. Nevertheless, her family did not lose hope in giving Shaira the life that she deserved through surgery. Eventually, a local pastor referred her to the Abounding in Love non-profit organization.
The first thing Abounding in Love did was help Shaira determine her heart problem. After undergoing a 2-d-echocardiogram, the doctors diagnosed her with patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), a congenital heart disease that affects the blood flow of the heart. The condition explains why she would get tired easily and often experienced rapid breathing. Her family was so happy to have found Abounding in Love. At long last, they had identified Shaira's condition and could focus on treatment and the necessary steps to qualify for surgery.
Shaira’s health obstacles were just the beginning, she knew it would be a long journey to surgery. But with help and encouragement from her family, she was confident she could overcome this adversity.
March 7, 2017 was the day Shaira had been waiting for most of her life. “I was afraid because the doctors had decided to operate on my cleft lip and heart at the same time,” Shaira explained. Her nervousness was undeniable as she remembered shaking and feeling anxious. But she knew she needed to be strong for her family.
Finally, thanks to God’s guidance, Shaira had a successful PDA heart surgery and cleft lip surgery at Perpetual Succour Hospital in Cebu. The family was overwhelmed with emotions and was thankful to Abounding in Love and the surgeons who had made Shaira’s dream possible.
Life After Cleft Lip Surgery
After the surgery, Shaira had a newfound confidence and was not afraid anymore. When she walked down the street, she didn’t feel self-conscious, wondering if strangers were staring and mocking her. She became an over-achiever and got high grades at school.
Shaira has been doing great in life. She is happy and thriving, but still, her relationship with her father continued to deteriorate. For years, their relationship became more distant until he sadly passed away. Nevertheless, Shaira can’t help but feel sorry for him. The love that a child has for their parents is everlasting. Although he is gone and was not perfect, he is still her father.
Today, Shaira is focused on her schooling and is in college aspiring to be a teacher. She wants to prove herself to all those who belittled her and doubted her abilities. Most importantly, she hopes to be an inspiration to children with cleft lip. Despite their condition, she believes they can still achieve their dreams and be the best version of themselves.
Throughout her journey, Shaira learned to love herself, acknowledging that her self-worth is not defined by hurtful words from bullies and ignorant people. The adversities in her life were only walls built to stop her from achieving her true potential. With the help of her family and friends, she was able to bring down those walls and arrived at the other side—wiser and stronger.