This cleft journey has been complicated. It’s been challenging and uncomfortable, physically and emotionally. However, it’s also been truly amazing. I have learned to appreciate my strength and celebrate my bravery. I’ve used what was once painful and worked to turn it into something lovely. But the best and most beautiful part of this journey has been the people.

I’m Katrina A. Pilla, 20 years old. I was born with complete left cleft lip and palate.

I have undergone five (5) surgeries so far. My cleft journey started when I was 5 months old, my first surgery was cleft lip repair. When I was 4 years old, I had my cleft palate repair but unfortunately, it failed. My parents worked hard to save up money for me to get it fixed again. Years have passed, I met a non-profit organization that will change my life for the best. My mother was surprised when she saw Dr. Bernard “Bernie” Tansipek because he was my doctor when I was 5 months old but he wasn’t the one who did my second surgery because he had left already when we came back to the hospital.

I was 12 years old when I underwent cleft palate repair with the help of Dr. Bernie Tansipek under NCFPI and it was successful. I also had Bone Grafting Surgery when I was 16 years old. I took my Orthognatic Surgery last May 09, 2019 and I can say that it is the hardest surgery that I’ve ever experienced. I wasn’t able to eat for 2 months, only liquids and prayers are the ones sustaining my life. I also had a hard time talking and taking my medicines due to my swollen face and mouth which I can’t even open wide  enough because it really hurts. It took a few months for it to fully disappear. I’ve dealt with much pain but it was all successful. I’m preparing for my next surgery hopefully my last, which is the Rhinoplasty and Lip Revision Surgery.

Growing up was very challenging because of bullying. I honestly went through a phase where I refuse myself to look in the mirror because all I could see are the imperfections. I once asked my mother “Why did God do this to me?” and she said “Kat, you’re a special gift from God, he has great things in store for your life and that what you’re going through will help someone else one day.” And so it happened, I met Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation Philippines Inc., (NCFPI) that finally turned my life around. A foundation that stood as my second family, my home. NCFPI gave me the love, acceptance, hope, happiness, pride and more, just for me to feel that I am not alone.  Together with the doctors, staffs, sponsors, volunteers, patients, I feel the love and support of this foundation and still counting. They gave me back the smile that I once lost. I’m looking forward to spend my time to serve other people like me with a goal of giving back the smile not only on their faces but also on their hearts. Proudly, I became a woman that I want to be.

I experienced hurt, being ridiculed at and other judgemental oppressions but I always find a way to rise above it all. It is hard being “different” as most individuals do not understand how their words have negative effect to people like me. But those harsh words have made me stronger, more determined and an ambitious woman that I am today. I’ve had my struggles with the scar, but I’ve ultimately come to appreciate what the scar meant to myself. We’re all a little imperfect, but don’t let it hold you back in life. Imperfections aren’t flaws, they’re part of the whole that makes us beautiful.

Over the years, I learned to love what others couldn’t.

As an adult, I’ve grown to accept what I have and the unique qualities I possess. As hard as it can be, I persuade everyone of you with even the smallest birth defect to remain confident.

I am grateful for everything that I have achieved. So I just want to say to everyone that is born with a cleft lip and/or palate, you can achieve anything that you set your mind to; it will be hard but it will be worth it in the end. Just remember true beauty comes from within.

This cleft journey is indeed complicated. It’s hard going through the surgeries, as the one experiencing them or as the parent. It pushes you to your limits, but ultimately you discover how strong you are, what you are capable of. It is complicated, but the people we meet and the friendships we make as a result are unparalleled.

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