Creating Baby’s Sassy Smile
Complete Care for Cleft Lips and Palates Calms Parents’ Fears, Repairs Infant’s Grin
Gwendalyn Manker was born with a cleft lip and palate. Her parents, Jessica and Donnie, were told of her condition when Jessica was 24 weeks pregnant. “I was in shock,” Jessica says. “We were terrified. I had heard of a cleft lip and palate, but we didn’t really know what it was.”
Cleft lips and cleft palates are one of the most common birth defects in the United States, afflicting one of every 600 newborns. Babies born with a cleft or other craniofacial condition often need specialized health care from infancy to young adulthood. July is Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month.
“Cleft lips and cleft palates are common conditions, but If they aren’t repaired, children often have problems that can include eating, speaking, hearing, swallowing and also dental problems,” says Kevin Calder, MD, associate professor of surgery at SIU Medicine, who repaired Gwen’s smile.
What is a Cleft Lip and Palate?
With cleft lips and palates, the lip doesn’t develop properly in the womb. The top lip doesn’t join together. Doctors don’t know the cause, but genetics may play a role. It took newborn Gwen some time to learn to swallow, and at times she would choke. Gwen struggled with acid reflux and was constantly getting sick and was not able to sleep on her back.
The good news is that this condition can be repaired with surgery. Jessica’s obstetrician referred her to SIU Medicine’s Congenital Head and Neck Anomalies Clinic. This clinic takes a team approach, providing care from multiple doctors, including plastic surgeons, ear, nose and throat doctors, dentists and oral surgeons, to ensure that babies and youngsters receive the best team-based care. A speech therapist, geneticist, psychologist and a care coordinator add to the complete care service at SIU Medicine.
Baby Gwen Gets Her Smile
Jessica and Donnie made the one-hour trip from their home in Griggsville to Springfield at least once a week during her pregnancy to receive care from the team, headed by Calder, who is active in Operation Smile. Before Gwendolyn was born, the couple toured St. John’s Children’s Hospital and met the SIU doctors in the neonatal unit. “Everyone was great about telling us about all the possibilities of how the birth could go,” Jessica says. Fortunately, baby Gwendolyn was delivered safely at 39 weeks in November 2017. “It was very emotional, but everyone was extremely respectful,” Jessica says. The family went home on Thanksgiving, and big sister Brylee, 4, happily welcomed her baby sister.
Surgery was scheduled four months later. Gwen was doing well, if a bit underweight due to feeding problems common for babies with cleft lip. “We got a special bottle and fed her from the right side of her mouth, since the left side was open,” Jessica says. The 60-minute surgery to repair her lip as very successful, and today, Gwen’s scar is practically unnoticeable. The feeding problems stopped, and she is growing at a healthy weight. Surgery to repair her cleft palate in September 2017 further helped her eat and breathe more easily.
Time will tell if Gwen, now 18 months old, will need more surgeries or speech therapy. She has regular appointments with orthodontist Dr. Jason Aleman, and Calder will see Gwen through her childhood to ensure healthy development. For now, Gwen is a healthy, sweet and sassy 18-month old who loves to color and play with blocks and dazzles everybody with her amazing smile. “We couldn't have asked for better care,” Jessica says. “We were terrified, and the team at SIU Medicine made everything so much easier.”
“Parents are the best advocates for their children,” Dr. Calder says. “The earlier cleft lips can be repaired, the better the outcomes, but we also provide corrective surgery to children with already repaired lips and palates.
To make an appointment at the SIU Congenital Head and Neck Anomalies Clinic, call 217-545-8000 and ask for Penny Praia.