It hadn’t been the best of days for Sara Heller. After all, not only was she getting used to the demands of being a new mom, but her baby had also been insensitively targeted by an unkind commenter online. But when a stranger handed her a note in a restaurant, it restored her faith in humanity.
Sara Heller and her partner Chris Eidam come from Omaha, Nebraska. In 2016 the couple were no doubt delighted to discover that they were expecting their first child. But 24 weeks into her pregnancy, Heller received some unexpected news.
Indeed, a scan revealed that her unborn son had a cleft palate. “We were really caught off-guard,” Heller admitted to WOWT News in January 2017. “I mean, you can see he’s just a regular normal baby,” she added.
And, although the condition is treatable, the medical professionals’ responses shocked the parents-to-be. “They asked us if we wanted to keep the pregnancy,” Eidam revealed. But, undeterred, the couple decided to continue on their path to parenthood.
In fact, Heller and Eidam decided that they had an opportunity to change people’s attitudes about birth defects. “It is okay to be proud of your baby no matter the circumstances,” Heller told TODAY in January 2017. “We wanted to change what ultrasound/newborn/first year pictures on our Facebook/Instagram accounts looked like. We wanted to spread awareness of cleft lips and palates.”
So the proud parents began posting images of their beautiful baby online. In fact, Heller began with her ultrasound image. “I can’t help but think he is the cutest baby on earth (or in the womb),” she gushed on Instagram in 2016. “So in love with our little 2lbs 12oz guy!”
On October 7, 2016, Heller and Eidam welcomed their son, Brody, into the world. And the proud mom was keen to break the stigma that surrounded her baby’s birth defect. So she continued to post images of her little bundle of joy; there was no way she was going to hide her adorable baby because of his cleft palate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 2,650 babies in the United States are born with cleft palates annually. In addition, 4,440 babies are born with cleft lips each year. The defect occurs when a baby’s mouth doesn’t form properly in the womb.
So, if the face doesn’t form properly, the baby can be left with a cleft lip or a cleft palate. The former will leave the child with an opening in the upper lip, whereas the latter results in an opening in the roof of the mouth. Many affected newborns have both of these defects together.
Usually surgery can resolve a cleft lip in the first few weeks of life. Often, though, those with both cleft lips and cleft palates will need further treatment into adulthood. They may also require therapy to learn how to speak and eat, but they can otherwise lead happy and healthy lives.
So, while Heller was raising awareness of cleft palates online, Brody was receiving plenty of support from kind well-wishers. However, as so often happens on social media, it seemed the mother had opened herself up to receive some nasty comments as well. But one in particular stood out.
Just before new year, someone shocked the new mother by asking her, “What’s wrong with his face?” The comment struck a nerve with Heller. “I wasn’t prepared to defend my three month old and why he looks ‘different’ from other babies,” she told TODAY.
However, Heller chose not to retaliate. “I decided to educate rather than create a confrontation because that is what I want Brody to do in the future,” she told TODAY. “I will want him to educate, to be an advocate for younger cleft kids who don’t have their own voice yet.”
So, just a few hours later, Heller headed out for dinner with some friends. The evening went without incident, though, until the waiter approached the mom with a folded napkin. And what the piece of cloth contained brought tears to her eyes.
Inside the napkin was a check for $1,000. Moreover, a note accompanying the money simply read, “For the beautiful baby.” Recalling the special moment, Heller told TODAY, “The happiness my heart felt is indescribable.”
“The generosity of a complete stranger restored our faith in humanity,” Heller added. “Being Brody’s parent has taught me that people care. Strangers all over the country want to hear his story, and they want to pray for him.”
Heller and Eidam used the stranger’s kind donation to help pay for Brody’s treatment. So in January 2017, the infant underwent his second surgery to fix the gap in his lip. Thankfully, the procedure went well, and images showed the little one was healing nicely.
However, Brody wasn’t completely cured. Due to his cleft palate, the little one has to be fed using a gastrointestinal tube. He is also expected to return to the hospital for more surgery when he is closer to one year old to fix the roof of his mouth.
So with a challenging few months still ahead for Brody, his parents are thankful for all the support they’ve received online as well as in real life. “This experience has shown us just how strong the cleft community is. We’ve been contacted by people all over the country,” Heller revealed to TODAY. “They are praying for us and asking us to reach out if we need anything.”
For now, little Brody seems happy to be the center of attention at home and on his mom’s Instagram account. And in the future, it’s likely that the baby will continue to make progress with his birth defect. If there’s one thing for sure, though, it’s that this little boy will always have a heartwarming smile, and his parents wouldn’t want it any other way.