Hear Clara's story,
as featured on KS95 For Kids.
Clara is a bubbly and curious child who loves creating arts and crafts projects for her friends and family.
When Clara was born, she was immediately diagnosed with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate (roof of the mouth). "We were terrified," said her mother, Patti. "We didn't know if it could be fixed, or if she'd ever look like other kids."
A Promising Prognosis
Clefts occur in the earliest states of pregnancy. In most children, parts of the face develop individually and then come together. A cleft, or split, in the lip or palate occurs when the areas don't join as they should.
Shortly after Clara's birth, Dr. Robert Wood, M.D., director of the Center for Craniofacial Services at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, visited the family in the hospital. "Dr. Wood took one look at Clara and told us everything would be OK," said her father, Patrick. "It was wonderful, finally, to feel so reassured."
Only a week old and weighing less than 5 pounds, Clara began coming to Gillette. There, Dr. Wood counseled the family on future surgeries and follow-up care Clara would need. Gillette's craniofacial team taught the family appropriate feeding techniques for children with clefts - including using a specialized bottle, high-calorie formula and frequent feeding intervals - that would help Clara reach a healthy weight before her surgeries. Because babies with cleft palates cannot be breast-fed, it can be difficult for them to receive proper nutrition and gain weight.
A Remarkable Transformation
When Clara was 4 months old, she had her first surgery. She weighed only 10 pounds at the time. "I rehearsed it a million times and thought I was prepared, said Patti. "But when the time came to take our baby away, I started bawling." The surgery successfully closed Clara's cleft lip, and later surgeries repaired her cleft palate. A final operation, when Clara is older, will fully close the gap in her palate.
Today, it's almost impossible to tell that Clara once looked different from other children. Thanks to an early start on speech therapy at Gillette, she exhibits none of the speech problems common in children born with clefts. She's one of the most outgoing children in her first-grade class and a budding hockey player. Clara will tell people, if asked, "I was born with a hole in my lip, and my doctor fixed it."
Patrick points to an early conversation with Dr. Wood as a defining moment for the family: "He told us that Clara's cleft wouldn't be the central event of her life. Thanks to our team at Gillette, it's been Clara - not her cleft - that defines who she is."