Liz Bayley, from St Helens, is the mother of Heidi, a 13-year-old with a cleft. Below, she shares her family’s cleft journey and what inspires them to raise money for Smile Train.
Heidi was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. We only found out about it when she was born with no nostrils, no top lip, no hard palate, no soft palate, no roof of mouth, no top gum. It was just one big opening from the top of her nose to the back of her throat.
The generosity, gentleness, and kindness we received in that confusing and distressing time immediately changed our lives forever.
When navigating a cleft journey as long and complex as our daughter’s, your cleft team quickly becomes like your second family. And because my husband is in the Army, we’ve moved enough to be blessed with many second families, from the team at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol where she was born, to that of Alder Hey in Liverpool, where she now receives treatment.
Everywhere Heidi has been, she has received exceptional support from the widest range of health professionals. Her team’s constant physical, logistical, and emotional support has been essential to her growth into the strong and able young woman with an emotional depth and understanding of herself and her condition that she is today.
That’s why, from the moment she was born, her teams inspired us to seek out ways to give other children with clefts the same opportunities she has had. Thankfully, we didn’t have to look very hard. We first encountered a Smile Train leaflet towards the beginning of Heidi’s journey, just after one of her first surgeries. We were instantly moved by how their model of training and empowering local healthcare workers makes it possible for families around the world to receive the same superb care as Heidi.
We soon developed a philosophy around Heidi’s care, and it’s the same advice I’d give to anyone with a cleft: Enjoy life, smile, and take every opportunity to grow. So when Heidi’s doctors once told us she would never be able to swim — one of my favourite hobbies — due to her cleft, I was determined that she should prove them wrong. I signed us up for mother and baby lessons, and she soon displayed a clear love for the water. (Of course, I know that it’s only due to the miraculous medical care provided by those same doctors that this girl who once couldn’t nurse without choking now swims like a fish!)
At that time, I had been participating in the Great North Swim in Windermere for a few years. When they opened Swim250, a 250m event, to children eight and up in 2017, Heidi, her older brother, Noah, and his friend Josh were eager to dive in, on one condition — they could use the occasion to fundraise for Smile Train!
We raised over £1,000 that year, and a new family tradition was born. For the next two years, the Great North Swim was truly our most smile-filled day of the year!
Of course, COVID-19 complicated things last year, but through it all, Heidi was still able to receive the cleft care she needed. That strongly upped our motivation to support Smile Train this year, as their local model means they, too, are still making cleft treatment possible for children in need even through the pandemic.
So, the Bayleys made The Great North Swim 2021 in June our biggest open water challenge yet. I swam a 5k, Noah half a mile, Heidi and her younger sister Hope did Swim250, and our youngest, Bella, cheered us on from the beach (Dad was deployed at the time). We all loved the event, and the children took great pride in raising another £1,200 for Smile Train!
In the future, we look forward to taking on more outdoor challenges together as a family to help other children like Heidi steady on through their own life-changing journeys.
Join the Bayleys in bringing lifesaving cleft care to children in need around the world. Donate now.