Cleft Palate – Heard if not Seen
Similar to a cleft lip, which is the result of incomplete facial development during gestation, a cleft palate is when the roof of the mouth fails to fuse together. Imagine having a huge gap instead of a solid roof of your mouth. It's very difficult to speak clearly, to eat and drink without liquids spilling out through the nose, and makes people susceptible to infections.
For children with both cleft lip and palate, cleft lip repair dramatically changes their appearance, but difficulty speaking clearly and confidently – and the social, health, and financial issues that accompany major speech impediments – remain. Fortunately, cleft palate is also treatable.
Leona, 18 years old
Leona is eighteen years old and in college at nearby technical university. In many ways, she's a typical teenager – loves to hang out with friends, be silly, sing and dance. She's studying computers and is hoping to land a good job when she finishes school.
However, Leona has a cleft palate. She gets sick a lot, including frequent headaches and stomach aches. Leona also gets bullied because of the way she speaks. In some ways, childhood had been easier than college, because her friends and community knew and loved her for who she is. But when she got to college, the teasing got worse. Sometimes even professors mimic her speech. She told us that in many ways, she's fearless. She won't let the bullying stop her from getting the education she wants. Yet she also talked about the pain of being teased and holding back her tears until she's alone.
Leona bonded with many on the Rotaplast staff. She left a touching note for the team when she was discharged (photo below). Members of the team also had the opportunity to visit her at her home a few days after the surgery. Hugs all around.
Regie, 9 years old
Reggie's first surgery with Rotaplast was in 2007, also in Cebu City, to repair his cleft lip. It's rewarding for the team to see patients weeks or years later, as "after photos" a day or two post surgery still show incisions and wounds not yet healed. He returned this year to have his palate repaired.
Reggie was one of two patients in surgery the morning the earthquake hit. The doctors and nurses in the operating room (OR) stayed by his side, doing what they needed to do to make it safe to evacuate him outside. He spent several hours outside on a driveway in front of the hospital, never without a huge team, and his mother, by his side. Once the hospital was deemed safe to resume operations, the Rotaplast team finished Reggie's surgery in the hospital's main OR, as the Rotaplast OR was not yet back up and running. Sure, he had a cameo on CNN.com, but most importantly, his surgery went beautifully.
Eugene, 14 years old
Always up for a "hello" or better yet a good laugh, Eugene knew everyone on the ward. He was a bright light, easing the nerves of children and adults sharing the waiting area with him. Eugene had his first surgery, to repair his cleft lip, when he was a one-year-old. He needed additional surgery to repair his palate, but has been too sick in the past to undergo surgery. Finally, he got his chance.
Anderson, 8 years old
Eight year-old Anderson was notorious for his cool demeanor and spiked hair. When Anderson came out of the OR and was in recovery, he was greeted by his dad and sister. His dad, sporting the same spiked hair, saw Anderson's post-surgery hair flattened and spiked it up again. Within hours, Anderson was back to his casual cool self. On his clinic day visit post-surgery, fittingly, Anderson and Dr. Rod exchanged a first bump.