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Children’s cleft and craniofacial team partners with families from birth through young adulthood

Bridget and Patrick O’Neil with their two children Claire and Austin.

Like any young family, life in the O’Neil household is bustling with two-year-old Claire and eight-month-old Austin. Parents Bridget and Patrick are busy introducing baby Austin to new foods, getting him to sleep and keeping him from pulling his sister’s hair.

That’s not what they were worrying about one year ago.

During Bridget’s 20-week ultrasound the O’Neil’s found out that their son would be born with a cleft lip and palate.

“What does it mean to have a cleft lip and palate? I’d heard of it but didn’t know. What will it mean for our lives? Our concerns were vast,” said Bridget.

Before the birth, Bridget and Patrick were referred to the Cleft and Craniofacial Program at Children’s Minnesota.

Bridget said, “Everyone was understanding and empathetic.  It’s so foreign and new to us but they see it every day.”

“We got this,” said Dr. Robert Tibesar, an ENT and facial plastic surgeon at Children’s as he reassured them while waiting for Austin’s birth. “I want you to enjoy your pregnancy. When we meet your son, we’ll know what to do. We treat all types of clefts and we’ll make a plan tailored to him.”

To help Bridget and Patrick know what to expect going forward, Dr. Tibesar and the cleft and craniofacial team at Children’s provided the family with a timeline and treatment plans from birth through Austin’s young adulthood.

“As ENT facial plastic surgeons, we are able to provide comprehensive care to the patient and make sure all of the important needs are met,” said Dr. Tibesar.

Children’s Minnesota has a well-established cleft lip and palate craniofacial program and treats patients throughout the region. The team of pediatric craniofacial specialists at Children’s is led by ENT and facial plastics surgery and others on the team may include oral and maxillofacial surgeons, neurosurgeonsspeech pathologistsaudiologists, orthotists, dentists, orthodontists, physical therapistsgenetic counselors, geneticistspsychologists and social workers.

Bridget said, “When you meet your baby everything just falls into place and all the worries go away. Austin is just like any other baby his own unique self.”

Austin’s initial lip surgery went very well and Patrick and Bridget noticed that his feeding went even better than with their daughter Claire.

Bridget and Patrick like Dr. Tibesar’s approach “He deals with what we know now. First lip repair and recovery then move to next steps and avoid the ‘what ifs.’

Austin’s next steps will be palate surgery this summer. The family knows that the recovery from this surgery can be difficult, but their main focus is to let Austin grow and be a normal kid.

“We paused life in a way but we were able to start it back up and they (team at Children’s) made it a very manageable process,” Bridget said.

Children’s Cleft and Craniofacial Clinic is accepting new patients of all ages with appointments at both its Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses,  612-874-1292

Laura Stokes