NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - Through the halls of Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, 3-year-old Joshua Perez's little feet take big steps.
CHKD Child Life Specialists tour Perez and his family around the hospital; he'll spend a lot of time there.
Perez is loving, energetic, and curious. He is just like any other toddler, except he was born with a hole in his mouth - a cleft lip.
"He can't drink from a straw, or blow bubbles... you know things that other kids do...," Candy Prezas, Perez's grandmother, explained.
Prezas says those differences are more noticeable as Perez gets older.
"He had never seen a baby with a cleft lip either," she said. "And all I could do was cry when he looked at the picture and he goes 'he's like me.' I never thought that he noticed the difference in himself too."
Operation Smile flew Joshua's mom and both grandmothers in from Corpus Christi, Texas. CHKD is covering all the medical costs. Prezas says she's overwhelmed by the generosity from those in Hampton Roads.
"That's what has been so amazing to us about being in this area, everyone is very accepting and you don't have the stares and the comments," she said. "But where we come from there's not a lot of awareness at all. Before him I'd never seen a baby with a cleft lip."
Operation Smile founder Dr. Bill Magee performed the surgery. He explained the process: "If we actually turn some of the lower lip into the upper lip, we can make a central segment there, and if we make a central segment there, then it's going to look really good."
Dr. Magee says it's rare to find someone within the United States who needs this procedure.
"We actually screened kids from this community, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York City, and we never found a kid with a completely unoperated cleft, because the social system in the United States takes care of those kids," Dr. Magee said.
Perez's situation is different. Thursday marked surgery number 14. We're told the procedure went well, but Dr. Magee warned Perez's case is difficult. Still, he's hopeful post-surgery his life will change.
Joshua's next challenge is recovery. If he heals well, the outlook is great.
"I want to see him get the smile that every other child has," Prezas said.
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