July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month. The term craniofacial refers to the head and face. Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is one of the top centers in the country for craniofacial care. (Note: photos were taken before COVID-19 precautions.)
“The main message I’d like to share with parents of children who have craniofacial issues is—you’re not alone and we’re here to help,” says Gillette pediatric craniofacial and plastic surgeon, Martin Lacey, MD.
Lacey leads the craniofacial team at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare and has more than 30 years of experience caring for children who have craniofacial concerns. Often these health issues are diagnosed and treated before a child turns 1-year-old.
Michelle LeMonds of St. Michael, Minnesota says she clearly remembers her 20-week ultrasound in 2008 when she was pregnant with her daughter Avery. “During that appointment they told me my daughter had a cleft lip and palate. My first thought was, ‘I don’t want this to be happening!’ I knew I had to find the best care for my daughter.”
LeMonds interviewed several doctors before she decided Dr. Lacey was the best fit for her family. “At that time I would say I was a mother on a mission,” LeMonds recalls. “Dr. Lacey was reassuring, and a highly-trained plastic surgeon.”
LeMonds experience of getting a cleft lip and palate diagnosis before her child is born is a relatively new development in prenatal health care.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve made such advances in detecting, diagnosing and treating craniofacial issues,” Lacey says. “We can now give parents a plan of care for their child even before they’re born. It actually is one of the best parts of my job--I can assure parents that we have a plan to take excellent care of their child.”
A team approach means comprehensive care
The craniofacial team at Gillette 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 in their respective fields to support children.
This comprehensive, highly-trained team has an impact on the level of care Gillette is able to provide. “It’s great that I can be with one of my patients and in the middle of the appointment I can just pop down the hallway and talk to our orthodontist, Cheryl Cermin,” Lacey says. “This often saves the family time because Dr. Cermin and I can consult with each other to solve an issue quickly. Plus, the family has the benefit of two doctors thinking about the best way to help their child.”
The dedication and specialty care Cermin provides was one of the deciding factors for the LeMonds family to choose Gillette for Avery’s care. “We just really wanted to be associated with Dr. Cermin,” LeMonds recalls. “We think Gillette is awesome and love that we can get all of Avery’s care in one spot. Plus, the providers at Gillette are compassionate and it’s a smooth process from pre-surgery appointments to follow-up care.”
Avery LeMonds is now a pre-teen. She’s an active gymnast and is described as a “social butterfly.” Her mother reports Avery is confident and actually enjoys coming to Gillette for her yearly check-in appointments. “Another great thing about Gillette is the fact that they have access to the latest technology,” LeMonds says.
Gillette has one of the largest craniofacial programs in the country and this allows the team to gather and examine data to conduct research. This research enables Gillette to continually improve treatment options and outcomes for children and the team shares these findings with other providers around the world.
Gillette is the right spot
“As a parent, handing your child over to receive care is hard. You want to be very sure you’re making the right decision for your child,” LeMonds says. “Once I did my research and found Dr. Lacey and the Gillette team I knew Avery was in the right spot!”
The extensive Gillette craniofacial team are also experts at caring for children who have craniosynostosis, (when one or more joints of the skull fuse too early), torticollis (a twisted neck that causes a head tilt), and deformational plagiocephaly (also known as “flat head syndrome”).
“We care for a high volume of patients at Gillette and have a very low complication rate,” Lacey 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.”
The Gillette craniofacial team is available for adoption consultations and prenatal consultation. The team can test and evaluate children for audiology issues, nutrition and feeding concerns, and can conduct a nasendoscopy to examine the inside of a child’s nose, throat (pharynx) and voice box (larynx).
“What we do in the first year of a child’s life has a big impact on the rest of that child’s life,” Lacey says. “We need to do a great job at the start and then for the next 80 or 90 years our patients can enjoy the benefits.”