Cleft lip (a separation in the upper lip) and cleft palate (a split in the roof of the mouth) are the most common conditions that affect the skull and face. Each year, these two conditions affect about one in every 700 babies born in the United States.
At Gillette Children’s, we ensure patients who have a cleft diagnosis are informed and supported every step of the way. Gillette has one of the largest craniofacial programs in the U.S. The Gillette craniofacial team includes craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgeons, neurosurgeons, dentists, orthodontists, speech-language pathologists, advanced practice nurse practitioners, audiologists, and other providers who’ve been carefully selected because of their specialized training.
“We care for a high volume of patients at Gillette and have a very low complication rate,” Martin Lacey, MD, Medical Director of Craniofacial and Plastics, says. “Plus, unlike some other hospitals, Gillette has fellowship-trained pediatric craniofacial plastic surgeons—meaning our doctors achieved the highest level of knowledge and training in this area.”
New mother Delissa Kearney knows what it’s like to hear your baby has a health condition before they’re even born. “I found out at the 20-week ultrasound for my daughter Heavenly,” Kearney recalls.
A Warm Welcome
Kearney was referred to Gillette Children’s for a prenatal consultation to talk about Heavenly’s condition before birth. During these prenatal consultations, the Gillette expert craniofacial team provides information about treatment options, counseling, and helps plan a course of treatment.
Gillette also offers “Smile Bags” during consultations with new parents of children diagnosed with a cleft lip and/or palate. These tote bags contain a collection of tools and educational materials to help teach families what to expect. It’s a special way for the Gillette craniofacial team to support parents who might feel anxious and overwhelmed by their new baby’s diagnosis.
“Right away Dr. Barta and the team at Gillette made me feel better,” Kearney recalls. “They explained the different bottles I would need to feed Heavenly properly and I appreciated their advice.” Kearney adds the Gillette craniofacial team understood her emotions and helped to reassure her. “We all want our babies to be ‘perfect’ but sometimes that’s not the case. I’m grateful I already knew Dr. Barta so she could help Heavenly right away.”
“As the second oldest of nine children, I am used to being in a caregiver role and have a deep appreciation for Gillette’s family-centered care model,” Jo Barta, MD, Heavenly’s surgeon, says. “Many congenital and craniofacial anomalies require multidisciplinary team collaboration, and that is also something Gillette champions. Everyone is here pulling together as a team for the benefit of the patient.
Heavenly had surgery to repair her cleft lip in February 2022. “She spent one night at Gillette and I was able to take her home the next day,” Kearney says. “She was a little swollen and wanted to be cuddled but everything healed well, and I only had to give her Tylenol for pain.
“At first, I really did cry a lot,” Kearney admits. “That’s because I was worried about what it meant for my daughter, and I was concerned she would eventually face teasing at school. But Dr. Barta and the Gillette team were really helpful,” Kearney says. “I would tell other parents to put your trust in these surgeons at Gillette. They see this all the time and they will help everything turn out amazing.”
Cleft lip repair typically occurs when babies are about 3 months old and usually requires only one reconstructive surgery. Cleft palate repair typically occurs when a baby is 9 to 12 months old. After cleft repair surgery, our speech-language pathologists may work with your patient to improve speech. If your patient has hearing problems, their treatment plan might also include collaboration with audiologists and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists.
“The first year is certainly, in many ways, the most important year for cleft lip and palate care because that’s when you have the opportunity to correct a problem and do the initial surgery,” Lacey says, “But long-term follow-up to monitor speech as well as growth and development through all the stages of life is part of proper cleft care. At Gillette, we can monitor and do all the necessary care in-house.
New Craniofacial Surgeon Joins Gillette Children's
Courtney Carpenter, MD, joined the Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery team in September 2022. She comes to Gillette from Albany Medical Center where she was a pediatric plastic surgery physician and the director of their Cleft-Craniofacial clinic. She completed a fellowship in Microsurgery at Albany Medical Center and a Craniofacial fellowship at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Dr. Carpenter attended medical school at the University of Massachusetts and did her residency in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Montefiore Medical Center. She has been board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery since 2017.