Our cleft and craniofacial team at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, an American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association accredited program, provides comprehensive care to our young patients who have a cleft lip or palate.
A cleft lip or palate occurs when tissues that make the upper lip or roof of the mouth do not fuse properly during the early weeks of pregnancy. A cleft lip or palate can affect the way a person eats, drinks, smiles, speaks and kisses.
Children born with clefts or other craniofacial conditions often require complex specialized health care from infancy to adulthood. Although clefts are usually repaired in the first year of life, many children need additional surgeries and treatments as they get older to improve their breathing, hearing, speech and language development and appearance. These children can also require special dental and orthodontic care.
This is where our cleft and craniofacial team comes in! The group is comprised of a range of specialists, including plastic and oral surgeons, geneticists, pediatric dentists and orthodontists, clinical psychologists, prosthodontists, speech language pathologists and more – all to assist patients and their families at every step of the way.
“It takes a village,” Sharline Aboutanos, MD, (pictured above, left) an affiliate plastic surgeon from Richmond Plastic Surgeons, shares.
“We cover all aspects of care for these children and their families – we’re really involved at every step of the way. And then we tie in the patient’s family, and then their school, and it becomes a whole community.”
Linda Shait (pictured above, center), pediatric specialty care coordinator at St. Mary’s Hospital, takes pride in providing each patient and their family with a personal care experience.
“We’re a community-based team,” she explains. “As the coordinator, I’m the first person that families talk to each time, the first voice they hear. From there, I work with them to determine their needs, and refer them to the care they need. But I think this level of consistency in care is really what helps to set our program apart.”
Isaac Wornom, MD, (pictured above, right) another affiliate plastic surgeon at Richmond Plastic Surgeons, has been with the cleft and craniofacial team at St. Mary’s Hospital since it was founded in 2011. He finds his work with this type of surgery the most rewarding.
“I find the continuity of care as these children grow up, both for the child and the family, extremely rewarding. Helping them gain confidence, feel the best they can about themselves and to be in good health – it’s a remarkable thing to be a part of.”
Dr. Aboutanos adds that it’s important to recognize National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month each July.
This is because it is a common condition that children face and can have a huge impact on their early years.
“It’s important that people, particularly children, who aren’t affected with this condition have an awareness – and know to choose kindness. These are normal kids, who may have facial differences. I think, unfortunately, in this day and age, that can be difficult growing up. But it’s not a rare thing, and there are people in our community who treat these conditions.”
Dr. Wornom also adds, “just because a person has a facial difference doesn’t make them any less capable of doing anything they want to do. They need the same respect and love and care and kindness as all people do. That’s why it’s important to raise awareness in the community.”
As for Linda as well as the entire cleft and craniofacial team, it’s all about the child from day one.
“My whole career has been in the world of pediatrics,” Linda says. “I’ve been with St. Mary’s for 43 years, first as a nurse, and now as a coordinator. So, for me, it’s always been all about the children and interacting with the families and watching how those children continue to grow and go through life just like everyone else.”
“It’s more than just surgery,” Dr. Aboutanos emphasizes. “It’s dental, psychology, genetics, prenatal counseling, ophthalmology, dermatology – everything the patient and their family may need. It’s care at each step of the way.”