Each year in the United States, cleft lip and palate and craniofacial conditions affect thousands of infants, children, teens and adults. While some are born with congenital anomalies like the cleft lip and/or palate, others are born with birth defects that include craniosynostosis (skull sutures fusing prematurely), anotia/microtia (ear is missing or underdeveloped), and other issues.
Because of the vast number of people living with these birth anomalies, we celebrate National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month each year in the United States. To spread awareness, we look at the condition and meet a family who just finished treatment.
Cleft Lip and Palate
A cleft can affect the upper lip, and/or the hard palate, and/or the soft palate of the mouth. It is one of the most common birth abnormalities in the world, affecting one in every 700 births. Despite extensive research, we still don’t know the causes.
What’s more, when children are born with cleft lips and palates, they have an impaired ability to feed themselves, their language development is hampered, and they are often at a higher risk for ear infections, hearing issues, and problems with their teeth.
Treating Cleft Lip and Palate
For children born with a cleft lip and/or palate, you’ll find they need the help of a multidisciplinary medical team (including plastic surgeons, oral surgeons, ENTs, orthodontists, dentists, speech pathologists, audiologists and others) to address not only their physical appearance, but their speech, teeth, eating, hearing, and their ability to develop socially.
Doctors can successfully treat the cleft lip and/or palate through a combination of specialized plastic surgery techniques and rehabilitation, often spanning years. A child’s ability to eat, speak, hear, and breathe can be improved, and surgeons can restore a more normal appearance and function.
Wichita Cleft Lip and Palate Team
In fact, the Wichita Cleft Lip and Palate Team has been caring for children with cleft lip and palate in Wichita and the surrounding areas since 1972. We care for and treat children from birth to age 21, and our mission is to provide patients and their families with quality, compassionate care with excellent outcomes. The Cleft Lip and Palate Team offers a coordinated model of care and is the only team, outside of Kansas City, that provides these services in the state of Kansas. The team is approved by the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association.
Meet Our Patient, Ashlie
At the Plastic Surgery Center, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know seventeen-year-old Ashlie, and her mother, Alayna, over nearly two decades. We began treating Ashlie as an infant, and she just had her last surgery. With three of our plastic surgeons involved over the years as well as a host of others, Ashlie is now enjoying incredible results and looking forward to living a full, active life.
We caught up with Ashlie’s mom, Alayna, and in keeping with National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, we share her story.
Ashlie was born in September 2000 with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. It was undiagnosed during her mother’s pregnancy. Although Alayna was adopted, and she knew her birth mother had a cleft lip, it didn’t occur to her that she needed to think biologically because her parents were “her parents.” Needless to say, Alayna was quite surprised when Ashlie was born.
Just in her 20s and a newly single mom, Alayna had no idea how she was going to take care of Ashlie. She was overwhelmed with thoughts of how to feed her and meet her needs. That is until a compassionate NICU nurse leaned over and pulled a picture out of one pocket of a baby with cleft lip and palate. She then pulled another photo out of her other pocket of the boy years later with his repair.
At that moment, Alayna knew that everything would be okay.
Ashlie had her first surgery at the Wesley Medical Center at four months old. It would be the first of 12 surgeries in all, some with our plastic surgeons and some with physicians in other specialties.
Throughout their journey and as Ashlie got older, they encountered some hard times, especially when an oral surgeon told them there was nothing more to be done to fix Ashlie’s fistula (a small hole in her palate that allowed food to get caught). So, she looked to the internet for some help. She learned from some cleft lip and palate support groups that she could find an oral surgeon at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City. This surgeon did fix her fistula and did some jaw repair as well.
Because of the distance, Alayna knew they couldn’t keep going back to Kansas City for follow-up visits and additional surgeries. After receiving a letter in the mail, informing her that Dr. Nataliya Biskup had joined the Plastic Surgery Center, and that she is a cosmetic, reconstructive and pediatric plastic surgeon, and a doctor on staff with Wesley Children’s Hospital, Alayna decided to schedule a visit with her regarding Ashlie’s care.
Her final surgery with us involved a rhinoplasty and the completion of her cleft lip and palate treatment. They are so pleased with the outcome of Ashlie’s rhinoplasty and lip repair and Alayna says, “It’s just amazing and so much better than expected!” After her many surgeries, Ashlie is so happy to be done and so thankful that God provided her with her many surgeons at the Plastic Surgery Center as well as several others who provided her treatment.
Both Ashlie and Alayna are committed to helping others. They both are active in support groups, helping adults as well as the children living with cleft lip and/or palate. Alayna says that while adults can certainly help, it’s important for Ashlie to reach out because she knows just what other kids are going through.
Plastic surgeons have the awe-inspiring ability to transform the lives of patients by restoring form, function and self-confidence. When combined with a multidisciplinary approach, children born with a cleft lip and palate have the finest care.
We find their care is best managed when a team of specialists from several healthcare disciplines works with the family to develop and follow a treatment plan because children like Ashlie who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or craniofacial conditions may require individualized treatment from infancy into adulthood.
Just like Ashlie, children born with cleft lip and/or palate can grow up to become successful and happy adults with healthy social interactions, just as those without a cleft lip or palate. Having a cleft lip and/or palate won’t prevent your child from having a family of his/her own, holding down a job, or leading a normal fulfilling life.
If you have any questions about treatment, please feel free to reach out to our team – we are here to support you.