According to the Center for Disease Control, it is estimated that around 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate and 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip, that is with or without a cleft palate. The cause of this condition is unknown. Some babies have a cleft lip or cleft palate due to changes in their genes. It can also be due to several other factors such as what the mother eats or drinks while pregnant or medications that she takes during pregnancy.
What is a Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate?
While in the womb, the lips form between the fourth and seventh week of pregnancy. The babies body tissues and special cells on each side of the head grow toward the center section of the face and join together. The joining of these tissues help to create the baby’s facial features. If the tissues that helps form the lip does not join completely before birth, a cleft lip will form. The results cause an opening in the upper lip.
The roof of the mouth, known as the palate is formed in the womb between the sixth and ninth weeks of pregnancy. A cleft palate will occur when the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth does not join together completely. For some babies this means that both the front and back parts of their palate are open. For others only one part of the palate is open.
Children who have a cleft lip or a cleft palate will usually have issues feeding or speaking clearly. They can have severe ear infections. They can also have hearing problems and issues with their teeth.
Treatment for Cleft Lip or a Cleft Palate
Surgery to repair the problem can usually be performed during the first few months of life and is recommended during the first 18 months or earlier if possible. Many children will require additional procedures as they get older to fully complete the process. The surgical repair can help to improve the look and appearance of the child, and may also improve their breathing, hearing. Speech and language.
While treatment is readily available here in the United States with most insurance companies paying for most or all of the fees. In other counties, parents with children who have a cleft lip or palate are not that fortunate. Many cannot afford to have the surgery done or their community does not offer a safe and reliable treatment option for these children, causing them to have to live with this disfigurement. This is where the kind and compassionate people from Operation Smile come in to lend a helping hand.
For so many families around the world, a safe surgical treatment for their children with this condition is simply not an option. Operation Smile believes that every child deserves to receive exceptional surgical care. That is what drives each person who is a part of this charitable organization made up of medical professionals and volunteers who dedicate their time to taking care of children all throughout the world. As long as there are children in the world who need the help of Operation Smile, they will be there to do whatever it takes to give them the quality care that they deserve.
Operation Smile was founded in 1982 by Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee after they took part in a Philippine cleft repair mission and saw the great need for more missions to occur. While they were able to treat hundreds of patients during that mission, they still had to turn away hundreds more. This led the husband and wife team to come up with the nonprofit medical service organization. They not only help to repair cleft lip and palate issues for children all throughout the world but they also work as a non-governmental organization that promotes awareness in order to reduce the occurrence of cleft lips and palates in the future.
Dr. Magee is the CEO of Operation Smile and a faculty member of both the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters and the Eastern Virginia Medical School. His wife, Kathy Magee, serves as the president of Operation Smile on a full-time, volunteer basis and is a lifetime member of the organization’s Board of Directors. The couple was awarded with The Spirit of Raoul Wallenberg Award from the American Swedish Historical Museum in 1998 for their work in establishing a network of volunteers and professionals who engage to restore the badly deformed faces of children.
As of March 2013, Operation Smile has provided more than 3.5 million comprehensive patient evaluations and over 200,000 free surgeries for underprivileged children and young adults who were born with facial deformities.