Mighty Blog

Austin’s cleft lip and palate story

We first met the O’Neil family in 2019 when they shared their son’s, Austin’s, cleft lip and palate story. Parents, Bridget and Patrick, explained how their Children’s Minnesota cleft and craniofacial team partnered with them from the birth of Austin through today.

Austin’s cleft lip and palate diagnosis

In 2018, Bridget was pregnant with Austin and during her 20-week ultrasound, they 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 to help them through this.

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

Meeting with the cleft and craniofacial team at Children’s Minnesota

While waiting for Austin’s birth, the O’Neil’s met with our cleft and craniofacial team many times. But, Dr. Robert Tibesar, an ENT and facial plastic surgeon at Children’s Minnesota, helped reassure them each time.

“We got this,” Dr. Tibesar said. “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.”

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 Minnesota is led by ENT and facial plastics surgery. Other experts on the team may include oral and maxillofacial surgeons, neurosurgeonsspeech pathologistsaudiologists, orthotists, dentists, orthodontists, physical therapistsgenetic counselors, geneticistspsychologists and social workers.

Austin’s surgeries

Austin outside today
Photo taken by Kelley Conley Reiter Photography.

Austin had his first lip surgery after birth and it went very well. In July 2019, after his first birthday, Austin’s first palate surgery was performed.

“My husband and I mentally prepared ourselves for a hard recovery but to our surprise the recovery period truly went better than expected,” said Bridget. “Austin bounced back to his normal self fairly quickly and showed us just how strong and resilient he can be.”

But Bridget doesn’t want to diminish the strength of a family who has to go through a child getting surgery. “It is so tough and the recovery was not always easy,” she said.

Palate revision surgery in 2021

Austin needed a palate revision surgery that was performed in April 2021. “He was born with a very wide, open palate so we have known that an additional surgery was likely,” Bridget said.

The O’Neil’s will meet with their Children’s Minnesota care team again in November of this year to talk about the next steps in Austin’s journey.

Austin today

Austin turned 3 years old in June 2021 and celebrated his birthday with a construction-themed party. And, he will soon be a big brother!

Austin loves anything with a motor, from cars to trucks and boats. He also has recently developed a love for Spiderman and other superheroes.

When asked about the care Bridget’s family received at Children’s Minnesota, she is so grateful.

“Thankfully now we can look back on the experience with gratitude for Dr. Tibesar, his team and the Children’s Minnesota staff for their support and care during that time,” Bridget said. “And, admire Austin’s overall bravery & toughness.”

Children’s Minnesota Cleft and Craniofacial program

The pediatric craniofacial specialists at Children’s Minnesota care for most of the children in Minnesota (and the surrounding states) who have cleft and craniofacial conditions.

Our goal is to make sure that children with cleft lip and palate or craniofacial conditions have the same opportunities in life as any other child — to grow in confidence, excel in school and have fun with their peers.

Learn more.

Austin and his sister
Photo taken by Kelley Conley Reiter Photography.
Alexandra Rothstein