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 Her disfigured cleft lip has made Mercedes Paz, 18, a recluse. She dropped out of school in the third grade because she was ashamed of her disfigured face. Her speech is so impaired she rarely tries to speak. She doesn't have a palate, so she suffers when she eats, often choking and gasping for breath. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Like scores of others, left, Irene Osores, and daughter, Mercedes Paz, wait for word from the Rotaplast team if she has been selected for lip and cleft surgery.  Mercedes, like the others, have congenital deformities affecting the mouth and face, conditions that would be repaired routinely in infancy in the United States. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Two hundred people, mostly children, waiting to be evaluated by the international Rotaplast medical team, pack the clinic with their families. Those identified for surgery are assigned bed space in a nearby military barracks where they will stay the duration. The most difficult surgeries are scheduled first, to give doctors more time to deal with any complications. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Left, Irene Osores observes Dr. Michael Niccole, right, evaluate her daughter, mercedes Paz' cleft lip and palate and the reconstructive surgery he will be performing on her face. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Dr. Michael Niccole, a Newport Beach plastic surgeon, assembled an international team of more than 30 medical specialists-surgeons-anthesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses and support people for amission to Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest regions in Argentina. They came to repair cleft disfigurements, a prenatal deformity affecting the mouth and nose. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Mercedes Paz, 18, has been a recluse her entire life.  In a 3 1/2-hour operation, Niccole repairs her mouth, nose and palate. At her age, she may never learn to speak normally, a problem for many older children who undergo cleft palate surgery. But with the help of the international Rotoplast team of doctors, she will have a chance to eat and breathe easier. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 An international team of more than 30 medical specialists-surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses, and support people, along with three dozen local volunteers worked around the clock at this rudimentary hospital in Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest regions in Argentina. They came to this remote area to repair cleft disfigurements, a prenatal deformity affecting the mouth and nose. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Minutes after being brought back from a four hour surgery of a cleft lip and palate, Mercedes Paz regains consciousness. Rotoplast team member, Kiko Guedez, center, comforts Irene Osores, Mercedes' mother, who has a difficult time reacting to her daughter's pain. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 On the last day of clinic, a week after her surgery, Mercedes Paz waits to have her stitches removed by the Rotoplast team doctors . In a four-hour surgery her face was transformed from a disfigured cleft lip and palate she lived with for 18 years as a recluse from society. She will probably never speak without impairment, but she should be able to eat and breathe more normally. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Left, Rotoplast team members Kiko Guedez and Barbara Brooks say their goodbyes to Mercedes Paz, who had her face transformed by the international team of doctors. For 18 years her disfigured cleft lip made her a recluse. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 In the rural village of El Churqui, Mercedes Paz and her family prepare a chicken feast for Dr. Niccole, who came to visit her in the Argentine countryside. Niccole, a Newport Beach plastic surgeon, was part of a medical team who came to Argentina to bring medical care to those who grow up in poverty or geographic isolation. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Using beat-up chairs for a playpen, Nieves Lucia Paz, 11 months, doesn't have much room to move around in her rural country home in El Churqui, in the dusty flats of northwestern Argentina. She is the youngest of twelve children living in a two-room house with dirt floors and no inside plumbing. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Mercedes Paz, recovers from surgery at home in the rural village of El Churqui. She was born seventh in a family of eleven children. A week after the surgery, she relaxes while her younger siblings play with kittens. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Mercedes Paz, recovers from surgery at home in the rural village of El Churqui. She was born seventh in a family of eleven children. A week after the surgery, Niccole visits the Paz family at their rural, cement-floor home which has no plumbing or running water. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
 Mercedes Paz, 18, probably will never speak without impairment, but she should be able to eat and breathe more normally, and for the first time, looks like everyone else around her without the disfigurement of a cleft palate. ©Gail Fisher for Los Angeles Times 
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