Among the most rewarding aspects of my work with the Center of Craniofacial Disorders at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) has been the opportunity I have had to develop long term relationships with patients. Pediatric facial plastic surgery to address a congenital issue or facial deformity generally needs to begin as early as possible in order to avoid any potential difficulties in eating, speech, and respiration, but treatments for these conditions rarely end in infancy. As the facial features continue to grow and develop, secondary effects may begin to manifest, creating potential problems that may linger into adulthood. In some cases, revision procedures are necessary to ensure that the treatment is proceeding as planned and the child is developing normally and many reconstructive pediatric patients may even return years later to have other facial features contoured or sculpted to create a more seamless and aesthetically integrated profile.
As a result, I sometimes have the opportunity to see the effects that my work has had on patients as they grow from infancy, through their teenage years, and even into adulthood. One such example was a remarkable young woman named Grace. Born with a unilateral cleft, a condition that can occur when a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy, Grace was brought to see me at Children’s Craniofacial Center by her parents Kelly and Thad, who had seen me previously for a minor procedure on their son. Cleft palate surgery, or palatoplasy, can be done as early as nine to 18 months and involves reconstructing the roof of the mouth to help improve both appearance and function. Multiple surgeries and long-term follow-up are often necessary in order to achieve optimal results and ensure that appropriate use is maintained as the patient grows.
I have had the privilege of being able to guide Grace and her parents through the correction process for almost eighteen years, and along the way I have been able to watch Grace grow from a sweet infant into an active high school junior. Today Grace firmly believes in giving back through volunteering, and tries, along with her family, to encourage and educate families that are tackling life with a disability. I feel honored to have been able to play a small role in helping this young lady become the amazing person that she was always meant to be.