Rizal Gutierrez is a nine-year-old boy from the Philippines who suffers from a condition known as frontonasal dysplasia.
As a result of this infirmity, Rizal has faced continual ridicule from community members—even from his peers, their parents, and prominent members of the village. Rizal should be in grade 3, but his condition has prevented him from attending a single day of school. In fact, he has rarely left home—it is the only place where he feels safe and loved. Rizal comes from a poor, disadvantaged family, so an operation to improve Rizal’s situation has been out of the question. Over time, the Gutierrez family began to lose hope that Rizal would ever lead a normal life.
Hope came the day Rizal’s father heard an unusual advertisement on the radio by an organization called Mabuhay Deseret Foundation (Deseret International). This organization claimed to perform corrective and reconstructive surgeries free of charge. At first, the Gutierrez family was skeptical. They had never heard of an organization capable of performing such miracles. Their neighbors and friends said it was a trick and that they would have to pay for the operation in the end. Regardless of these fears, Rizal and his father made the trek to Mabuhay Hospice in Manila, and Rizal soon received two of the three surgeries he would need at no cost. “His first day in Mabuhay, Rizal was very shy,” Manny Hernandez, Director of Mabuhay Deseret, explains. “But in just two to three days, he started playing with other kids and adults in the foundation. In fact, one time, his father told him they needed to return home for a time so he could earn more money, but Rizal said, ‘Go ahead, Dad. I’ll just stay here with my friends.’”
Rizal has one more operation to go before he can return home for good. When asked what’s in store for Rizal when the third surgery is complete, his father replied, “He wants to go to school and is excited to lead a normal life. He wants to play chess. Before the surgery, he never left the house; now he is a busy body. He wants to try new foods and become more independent. I hope he becomes a car painter like me.” As Rizal re-enters his community, he will no longer be a source of scorn but an emblem of possibility and miracle. Free to attend school and leave his home as he chooses, he will also be a contributing member of his society.
These important surgeries are evidence that impairments and abnormalities are biological and fixable—instead of a mark of evil or symbol of wrongdoing that many people believe them to be. In the Philippines, over 4,000 children are born with impairments and physical deformities each year. Join us in supporting lifelong community change through corrective and reconstructive surgeries.