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DALLAS Gersi Ordonez hasn't had much to smile about her entire life. In fact, a serious trauma to her face makes it impossible for her to smile at all.

Raised in the poverty-stricken town of Chimaltenango, Guatemala, Gersi's life has been filled with violence. Her brother was killed by gangs. She and her twin sister were placed in an orphanage, called My Special Treasure. They often work at the nearby dump, in a desperate attempt to salvage anything of value.

She said many of the girls from her town either married into gangs very young or were killed.

'There were lots of bad people living in her neighborhood,' explained Margo Isbell, who served as Gersi's interpreter, 'There were lots of deaths that occurred.'

Gersi was the victim of a trauma she does not remember as a child. It left the right side of her face paralyzed and drooping from serious nerve damage. Her nose bone was crushed so badly, her body long ago absorbed the fragments.

She is blind in her right eye and cannot move the right side of her mouth.

Orphan Outreach, a non-profit agency dedicated to giving orphans in dire living conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya Latvia, Russia, and the United States a better chance, organized a medical mission to get help for Gersi in Dallas.

Dr. Raul Barcelo of the International Craniofacial Institute is among a team of physicians who have volunteered to bring Gersi's smile back. Dr. Timothy Trone and Dr. Jorge Corona have also donated their time and attention to Gersi's case.

'She could lead a pretty good life in Guatemala,' Barcelo said. 'We just have to make it better for her.'

'We're going to harvest a fragment of her rib and build up her nose,' Barcelo explained. 'Then Dr. Rozen will come back and find the nerve here to build her back her smile, with muscles.'

It will take several surgeries over the next six months to repair Gersi's face. Most of the work is being donated. Any uncovered costs are being covered by The World Orphan Fund.

Orphan Outreach said the work is particularly important in light of the controversy involving thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Gersi's surgery could enable her to return to Guatemala to lead a better life.

Gersi claims to be 20-years old, but no one really knows her true age.

'She grew up in a really difficult background, like a lot of these kids did with violence and danger and poverty,' said director of programs Amy Norton. 'Our focus is to be able to help those kids find jobs.'

Gersi said she would like to return to Guatemala and become an accountant. She said she is grateful for the Americans who are giving her a chance at a better life... and a reason to smile again.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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