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Changing Faces, Lives For Kids With Cleft Palate

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Changing Faces, Lives For Kids With Cleft Palate

The medical professionals in a Beaumont Hospital clinic for children with cleft palate and other head and facial disorders don't just change faces, they change lives.

"His surgery changed everything in Connor," says Andrea Donahue of her 14-month-old son, a patient in the clinic who was born with a cleft palate.

Prior to surgery to repair the birth disorder, Connor's baby food would leak out of his nose, he would spit up endlessly and was whiny and tearful all day. Two days after surgery in July, Connor was successfully eating food from a spoon. He's now using a sippy cup, also with success.

"His attitude is totally better," says the first-time mom from Shelby Township (Mich.) "He's happy, happy, happy!"

The Craniofacial Clinic at the Royal Oak, Mich., hospital is a multidisciplinary service that includes a: plastic and reconstructive surgeon; pediatrician; ear, nose and throat specialist; pediatric dentist; orthodontist; speech-language pathologist; medical social worker; clinical psychologist; dietitian; audiologist; oral surgeon; nurse; and geneticist.

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In addition to cleft lip and palate, the clinic treats a full range of disorders including: submucous cleft palate; velopharyngeal insufficiency; Pierre Robin Syndrome; Treacher Collins Syndrome; Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome; Apert Syndrome; Crouzon's Disease; and craniosynostosis, among others.

Instead of the patients trooping from specialist to specialist in multiple locations at different times, the medical professionals come to them, visiting each patient in a private exam room that is large enough to accommodate a couple of family members as well.

At the end of the half-day clinic, held usually once a month on a Thursday, the medical team crowds around a conference table, discussing new patients formulating treatment plans for them, noting progress and devising follow-up for return patients.

All patient evaluations, treatments and clinical outcomes are recorded on computer software to monitor the patient throughout his growth process from birth to adolescence. By using a coordinated and ongoing treatment plan, the center is able to provide the right care at the right time in the child's development.

"This is critical for the child's best physical, mental and social well-being," says Kenneth Shaheen, M.D., medical director of the clinic and chief of Plastic Surgery at the hospital. "For instance, if a child isn't getting proper nutrition due to a physical defect, how can he grow, play sports, excel in school?"

Dr. Shaheen visited Andrea Donahue in the hospital on the day Connor was born, letting her know about the clinic, explaining things "in slow motion" so she and her husband could understand and getting her on track to apply for special insurance. Dr. Shaheen eventually did Connor's surgery.

"I can't even imagine life without him," says Donahue of Dr. Shaheen. "Since the repair life has been so normal and wonderful."