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Patient Stories

Gillette Expands Craniofacial Services in Duluth

Janessa Erickson and her daughter Robyn in the craniofacial clinic.

Janessa Erickson is pleased to hear Gillette is expanding its craniofacial services to Duluth, MN. Her daughter, Robyn, had surgery with pediatric craniofacial and plastic surgeon, Jo Barta, MD.

“I’m glad to hear Gillette is now providing craniofacial services in Duluth. It would have saved me HOURS of travel time,” says Janessa Erickson, mother to Gillette Children’s craniofacial patient Robyn.

Beginning January 23, 2023, Gillette is expanding its pediatric craniofacial and plastic surgery services in Duluth, Minnesota.

On the fourth Monday of every month pediatric craniofacial and plastic surgeons, Jo Barta, MD and Courtney Carpenter, MD, will have appointments in Gillette’s Duluth Clinic to offer families in northeastern Minnesota convenient access to specialty services.

Craniofacial is a medical term that refers to bones in the skull and face. Craniofacial surgery is a surgical subspeciality that deals with congenital and acquired deformities of the head, skull, face, neck, and jaw.

The Gillette craniofacial team uses the latest technology and techniques to treat a wide variety of craniofacial conditions including cleft lip and palate care, craniosynostosis, plagiocephaly, and torticollis.

A Gillette plan of care before birth

Janessa Erickson was living in Duluth when she gave birth to her daughter Robyn in July 2021. A 20-week ultrasound revealed Robyn would be born with a cleft lip and/or palate.

“Robyn is my fifth child so I was familiar with what a baby should look like during the ultrasound,” Erickson recalls. “During the ultrasound I just knew there was something not quite right.”

Erickson is grateful she began working with Dr. Barta and the Gillette craniofacial team even before Robyn was born.

“At the time, there really were not many good options in Duluth for cleft lip and palate repair,” Erickson explains. A doctor in Duluth referred Erickson and her daughter to Gillette.

Janessa Erickson and her daughter Robyn meet with Jo Barta, MD.

Janessa Erickson and her daughter, Robyn, traveled from Duluth to St. Paul to receive cleft lip and palate care from craniofacial and plastic surgeon, Jo Barta, MD.

One of the best and largest craniofacial programs in the U.S.

Gillette Children’s 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.

As leaders in craniofacial and plastic surgery and neurosurgery the Gillette specialists strive to make an anomaly unnoticeable at a conversational distance, minimizing the impact on a child’s function and social development.

Baby Robyn smiles and sits on her mother's lap at the Gillette Children's craniofacial clinic.

Janessa Erickson says, "it's worth it to get the best care for your child." 

"It is worth it to get the best care for your child."

As she worked with the Gillette team on a care plan for Robyn, Janessa Erickson said she felt more confident that she was getting excellent care for her daughter.

Erickson worked with advanced pediatric nurse practitioner (APRN), Martha McGrory, to learn about the special bottles and nipples that would make feeding easier for Robyn. Erikson credits the tips and relationships built with the Gillette team for Robyn’s successful feeding and strong overall health.

“Once a week for the first 7 months of Robyn’s life we made the trip from Duluth to the Twin Cities so we could see the Gillette team,” Erickson says. The drive took about 3 hours each way. “I had to make several stops so Robyn could be fed and cared for as we were traveling,” Erickson recalls.

During these trips Erickson had to make sure her other four children would be cared for during her absence. “It was a lot of work,” Erickson says, “but it is worth it to get the best care for your child.”

Happy with the results of surgery

Erickson’s daughter had cleft lip repair surgery with Dr. Barta in 2022 and she was impressed with the level of care.

“I liked how Dr. Barta explained things and made sure my child was getting the best care,” Erickson says.

Erickson and her family now live in the Twin Cities, and she’s pleased to hear families in Duluth now have the option of seeing a Gillette specialist close to home.

“When people see my daughter, they’re amazed at how great she looks,” Erickson marvels. “Everybody says Robyn looks great and, of course, I agree!”

Erickson advises parents who have received a diagnosis of cleft lip and/or palate for their child that a strong craniofacial team can help to alleviate stress and provide support.

“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason,” Erickson says. “My daughter is wonderful the way she is and I’m very happy with the result of her surgery and care at Gillette.”