Born with a Best Friend

17 July 2019 | Smile Train

Zalma and Alberto, from Tezontepec, Mexico, needed to grow up quickly when their first child Ximena was born (when the young couple were still teenagers), but Alberto found work at a restaurant, and they worked together to meet every challenge put in front of them. So, in 2011, when Zalma and Alberto learned that they’d be having twins, they didn’t stress over the added financial strain but rather celebrated that their family would be growing.

That December, Axel and Xavier were born just minutes apart, and to everyone’s complete surprise one of the boys, Axel, was born with a cleft lip and palate. Soon after, Zalma and Alberto made a pact that they’d do everything possible to ensure that both of their boys would be raised and treated as equally as possible so that they’d both have an equal opportunity to achieve their dreams.

Back at home, Axel struggled to breastfeed due to his clefts and began looking smaller than his twin brother, who had no problems breastfeeding. Zalma switched both boys to a bottle, despite the extra cost, in the hope that it would help Axel.  

Thankfully, the family was soon referred to Smile Train’s local partner, Hospital del Niño DIF, which helped Axel through his feeding issues and eventually scheduled Axel’s cleft lip surgery once he reached a healthy weight.

Smile Train patient Axel and his twin brother

On the day of Axel’s cleft lip surgery, Zalma said that Xavier was very sad and cried as he never had done before. However, a few hours later, Xavier calmed down when Axel returned to the crib with his forever smile. At similar weights, the boys now looked like mirror images of each other.

Axel poses with his whole family

One year later, Axel returned for his Smile Train-supported cleft palate surgery. Honouring the promise to keep the boys on an equal footing, both boys have been regulars at Hospital del Niño DIF for Axel’s dentistry, orthotics, and psychological support. Xavier even told the staff that he wanted the same orthotics that Axel uses.

Axel seeing Dr Eduardo Varela at hospital

Smile Train partner Dr Eduardo Varela says that the boys are well known by the hospital staff. His prognosis for Axel is outstanding, as the family never misses an appointment and Axel has the emotional support of his twin brother.

Axel working with his teacher

Today, the boys are doing very well in school and practice their multiplication tables together often.

Axel on a horse and working on the farm with his brother

After school, they share the chores of cleaning their room, washing dishes, and helping take care of the family’s puppies, cows, horse, and chickens.

Axel and brother posing with Smile Train pullout sign

The rest of their time and energy is spent playing and letting their imaginations fly. Zalma and Alberto are proud to report that, with the help of Smile Train’s local partner, Axel and Xavier are both doing great and have nothing holding them back from achieving their dreams.


If you would like to help support cleft treatments for a child in need, please make a gift today.