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Through Cleft Lip & Palate Repair, Searcy Toddler Has Been All Grins

Having a child with a cleft lip and palate poses challenges that many parents may never have considered. But as the Steele family of Searcy found out, it also offers some joyful surprises.

Before GraceAnn’s surgery to repair her cleft palate, Carrie Steele wasn’t sure how to help her daughter eat from an infant spoon.


"I knew that the baby food would end up in her sinuses and be painful," Carrie recalls. "But luckily, GraceAnn knew more than I did."

As Carrie scooped the purees toward GraceAnn’s mouth, her daughter reached out for the spoon and pulled it away from her mother.

"She immediately flipped it upside down, creating this little palate where she could lick the food from the top of the spoon," Carrie said. "I was so proud of her creativity. She understood exactly how she needed to compensate!"

Carrie and her husband Dr.  Jeffery Steele, an emergency physician at White County Medical Center, were excited to share the story of GraceAnn’s meal-time problem-solving with Dr. Larry Hartzell, the Arkansas Children’s Hospital surgeon who performed their daughter’s lip and palate repairs.

Carrie pulled out her phone and showed the clinic team video of GraceAnn’s maneuvers, which they celebrated together.

“They were just as happy to see her solution as we were,” Carrie said.

Communication and teamwork have been at the center of GraceAnn's care since Carrie was referred to Arkansas Children's when she was 28 weeks pregnant. The Cleft Lip and Palate team has always answered the Steeles' questions clearly and honestly, providing support throughout the process. The family has benefitted from the expertise of audiologists, dental specialists, speech pathologists, specialty nurses and other services offered in the comprehensive program.

GraceAnn needed three surgeries to correct her cleft lip and palate. The procedures took her smile through three distinct phases - cleft, post-lip adhesion and her final "forever" grin.

"We have been blessed by all three of GraceAnn's beautiful smiles," Carrie said. "When I first found out that she was going to have a cleft, all I could see were surgeries and long recoveries, but these babies are so much more. They have such a determination."

Like all parents, the Steeles wanted the best option for their daughter, so they investigated other programs before deciding they wanted the surgeries performed where they could receive expert care close to home.

"What we found was there was no need to go anywhere else," Carrie said. "Arkansas Children's Hospital was the best for us."

Arkansas Children’s performs about 90 cleft lip and palate repairs each year.

Though the experience was “intense,” Carrie is also grateful that it led her to a community of other parents whose children have clefts, and now she helps administer the Arkansas Cleft Family Support Group on Facebook.

These days, GraceAnn can eat most anything she wants, though some sharp items like chips can pose an obstacle. But that doesn't stop her from trying them. GraceAnn's characteristic determination continues to inspire family and her specialists at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

"You really learn from each other," Carrie said. "We are so grateful to the ACH Cleft Team. They were the answer to our prayers for GraceAnn to have wonderful care."

 

For more information read about our Cleft Lip & Palate Program.