Molly bawled when she discovered, following an 18-week ultrasound, that her second baby would be born with a cleft lip.
“You picture having this child and have all these worries and anxieties about how people will look at him,” she recalled.
Molly and husband Justin, who live in a small village outside Peoria, Illinois, said they immediately began researching cleft lip and palate teams within driving distance. An occupational therapy assistant, Molly knew she wanted her son to have access to speech therapy and other specialists he may need with cleft lip.
The couple met first with the maternal-fetal medicine team at The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. The same day, they met with Noopur Gangopadhyay, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who specializes in craniofacial abnormalities such as cleft lip and palate. The family learned about Lurie Children’s Cleft Lip and Palate Program, which treats children with the condition through their teenage years.
After that first appointment, the couple canceled their plans to meet with the other cleft teams.
“Everyone was so thorough and kind and answered all our questions,” Molly said. “We thought, why would we go anywhere else?”
When Molly and Justin’s son Greyson was born, Molly bawled again.
“All the anxieties melted away, you just fall so hard in love with your baby no matter what,” she said.
Greyson’s lip repair surgery with Dr. Gangopadhyay was scheduled in March 2020, four months from his birth. When it was scheduled, no one could’ve predicted the toll COVID-19 would have, including postponing many nonurgent surgeries. Ultimately his surgery occurred on April 30.
Due to COVID-19, however, additional safety measures were in place at the hospital, including having just one guardian present per child for surgeries. While disappointed her husband and relatives couldn’t go with Greyson and her to the hospital for surgery, Molly said Dr. Gangopadhyay gave her confidence.
“She told me she would make sure she would hold him if he were crying and just take care of him,” Molly said.
She said the hospital’s precautions to keep patient families safe – including having everyone wearing masks and keeping extra visitors away – meant she could focus on her son, rather than being worried about COVID-19.
When the four-hour procedure was complete, “it felt like 10 pounds had been taken off my shoulders.”
The surgery was a success. During the procedure, Greyson also underwent an ear tube insertion, a procedure commonly performed in combination with cleft lip and/or palate repair, with Taher Valika, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist.
“Both surgeons made sure I was comfortable, and all my questions were answered,” she said.
Now seven-and-a half-months, Greyson is learning to sit up, loves eating and can’t get enough of his two-and-a-half-year-old sister, Marlow.
He will need another surgery with Dr. Gangopadhyay in the coming months to correct the cleft palate discovered after he was born, but Molly said she is heartened by not having to worry about Lurie Children’s efforts to keep her family safe.
She and her husband meanwhile are offering support to other families they know with children born with cleft lip and/or palate, sharing a frequently used sentiment among cleft families: “You get to fall in love with your baby’s smile twice.”