By Adryka Vats, U-Voice Student Storyteller
On the 8th of October, a couple was blessed with the birth of their beautiful daughter, Ericka. She was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. How she looked didn’t matter to them. All that mattered was giving her the best life possible.
Ericka knew she was different. As a young girl, it bothered her. The weird stares from strangers and the hurtful words of kids dented her self-esteem. ” I used to be alone. I hated people. I hated myself,” she said as she reminisced.
However, her family stood by her like a rock. She considers herself fortunate to have their constant love and support.
“I’m here because of them,” she said. Without them, her journey would have been far more daunting.
When asked if she knew why she was born with the condition, she simply said she doesn’t know. She never tried asking her parents either as she didn’t want to let them relive the pain and is happier not knowing.
“I never asked them,” she said, “I don’t want them to feel sad.”
As she sat in the hospital seating area for the 1-week follow-up of her 5th surgery, she saw the other patients who were all babies. She felt a connection with them but knows that each one has a different story.
However, they were all united in the fact that their lives had changed. That was something really special.
As she looks back at her journey, she feels very happy and proud. She said, “It was hard, but I made myself strong.”
Getting out of that depressive and self-destructive abyss was tough as a young girl but she ‘wanted to push herself’. She knew she was much more than her cleft condition and wanted to channel the true Ericka she is.
She pursued her hobbies like playing varsity table tennis at a high school and college level. She finds joy in playing the guitar and singing. Currently, she is in her dream job as a pastry chef coming up with crazy creations of her own. She is truly a testament to how hard work and determination can overcome any obstacle you face.
In the past, the constant bullying and lack of acceptance from society forced her into isolation. Depressing thoughts loomed over her head.
“Why am I like this?… Why me?… Why am I here if I’m like this?”
After 25 and 5 surgeries later, she found the answer. She is special. She believes she was chosen out of many to go through this because she was stronger than many. What was once her greatest weakness is now her greatest strength.
When asked if she had any advice for patients going through what she did, she said:
“Just believe in yourself. Believe in yourself. Accept yourself. Love yourself. This is the most important thing. Before you love others, you need to love yourself and accept who you are. The second thing is to push for your dreams, whatever your dreams are. No one can stop you. “
With two of her latest surgeries happening through Operation Smile, she has nothing but gratitude towards them. “Operation Smile gave me hope. They gave me so much hope for myself. They changed my life,” she said.
Not only did Operation Smile support her through surgeries, but also helped her find a job she loves and navigate life in the UAE.
“I’m very happy; I feel amazing about myself,” she said as she described how much Operation Smile impacted her, “They’re like my family.”
Ericka’s story outlines how Operation Smile is a community that comes together to provide holistic care. Care doesn’t stop at surgery but goes beyond.
While talking about her future she mentioned, “I want to become stronger. I want to help other patients.”
Ericka embraces her condition and is always ready to talk to others about it. She’s attended many Operation Smile UAE events and numerous U-leads as a speaker and, she continues to raise awareness and spread positivity surrounding cleft conditions.
Having gone through the stigma first-hand, she makes sure to do her bit and is Operation Smile UAE’s biggest supporter.