July is Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness month. To provide more information to our patients, we sat down with Dr. Aric Park to talk about these craniofacial anomalies along with his experiences.

Q: Dr. Park,what is cleft lip/palate?
Dr. Park: As the fetus develops inside of the womb, the mouth is created by two buds of tissue that meet in the middle. Failure of these buds to meet can cause the formation of a cleft in either the lip or the soft or hard palate or any combination of these.

Q: What can cause this?
Dr. Park: The cause is most commonly related to genetics, but other factors like alcohol, tobacco, diabetes, and certain drug exposures can also contribute to the development of a cleft.

Q: Is there any way to prevent?
Dr. Park: While we don’t have a way to prevent this from occurring yet, there is a lot of exciting new work being done on surgery in utero as it offers the possibility of scarless healing.

Q: What is the treatment like? Does it require multiple surgeries?
Dr. Park: For cleft lips, we like to try to fix the lip with a single surgery. As children grow, however, it is quite common to do a minor touchup procedure to improve the symmetry or any excessive scarring that might occur. Along with the cleft lip deformity, the nose does not develop in a standard fashion. Fixing this can also require several procedures as the child grows and develops.

I like to attempt to fix the overall symmetry of the nose at the time of the first surgery as I can do this with minimal dissection and possibly allow the child’s nose to grow in proportion with the non-cleft side.

For cleft palates, this surgery is usually done at a later age than lips. Again, we like for everything to be taken care of at the first surgery but unfortunately as children grow and scars stretch, some will need a second surgery to improve upon the results of the first.

Q: Now you’ve gone on trips to perform surgery on children, what organization did you choose and how did you choose it?
Dr. Park: I choose to be a part of Medical Missions for Children because I was lucky enough to have trained in the same program that the founders of Medical Missions for Children started in. Through my relations with fantastic doctors like Arnold Lee, Denny Snyder and JagdishDhingra, I have become a better surgeon and hopefully a better person.

Q: What have you observed in your time volunteering with Medical Missions for Children?
Dr. Park: I am always amazed at the number of people who are willing to give up a week and a half of their time to go help those in need. Seeing the reactions of the parents and the families after the surgery has been completed is absolutely amazing.

I remember the first trip I went on, a father walked right by his son in the recovery area. When he turned around and saw his baby with a newly repaired lip, he started to cry as he hadn’t recognized him. He hugged his son and had the biggest smile on his face that I will forever cherish. Getting to share a little in that moment for him and his family is all the reward I need.