Adopted Brothers Share an Unbreakable Bond

Aug 19 2019

Do you have a sibling that doubles as a best friend? Van and Zak Malkie know a thing or two about that. They are adopted brothers from China who received treatment at Bon Secours for cleft lip and palate.

Each year in the United States, about 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate. Additionally, 4,400 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate. Cleft lip and palate can cause difficulties of speech, teeth abnormalities and even feeding complications. However, with the right team and plan in place, cleft lip and palate can be treated.

The Malkie family was looking to grow their family and decided to adopt a child through a special needs program in China. They knew it would be a challenge, but felt they had the means to coordinate the necessary health care treatments. And they didn’t just adopt one child through this program – they did it twice.

Van and Zak Malkie, ages 13 and 11, might not share the same blood but they do share a unique bond. Van was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate, and Zak was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.

When the Malkies first brought their children home, they met with Isaac L. Wornom, III, M.D., a plastic surgeon with the Cleft and Craniofacial Team at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, for a consultation.

“Dr. Wornom just blew us away from the very first meeting,” says Tracey Malkie. “My husband said, ‘that is the guy we want. He is the best in the business.’”

In both cases, Dr. Wornom gave the family a chance to bond before jumping into surgery. This also gave Van and Zak the opportunity to transition to life in the United States. During this time, Dr. Wornom worked closely with the Malkies to develop treatment plans.

“He was just so positive and had this huge amount of confidence,” Tracey mentions.

So far Van has received a palate repair surgery, two rounds of braces, and a bone graph for his unilateral cleft. Zak’s case has been a bit more complicated, requiring a specialized treatment program for his bilateral cleft. Zak has received a surgery for nasality, a first round of braces, a bone graph, and an initial palate repair thus far.

“It feels so tailored and custom,” says Tracey about the treatment plans for both of her sons.

The family also says keeping up with multiple surgeries, countless appointments and various treatments wouldn’t have been possible without Linda Shait, BSN, RN. Linda is the pediatric specialty care coordinator at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, and a key part of Dr. Wornom’s team. Not only has she helped the Malkies navigate treatment, she has also gone above and beyond helping them find peer groups to help the boys battle anxiety.

“I can’t say enough about how well she has served us in terms of keeping the care so consistent and connected,” Tracey states.

While this has been a difficult road, it has brought the Malkies closer together. And together, the Malkies always promote the message of kindness. Once during the summer, the boys hosted a lemonade stand with the proceeds going to the Operation Smile organization.

The Malkies also have another mantra they love to share. That is that it is okay to be different.

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