Until now, LFHC could do little to help children born with cleft lips and cleft palates.
Last month, however, 13 children came to the hospital for our first pre-op clinic for those with the birth defect. Eight of the children subsequently underwent surgery at our hospital.
These life-altering surgeries were made possible by the arrival of Dr. Kihwan Han, a plastic surgeon from Korea who received training in the procedures at Harvard University.
During the first surgery, the wide diversity of cultural backgrounds in the room became quickly apparent as we counted the number of languages spoken: English, Thai, Korean, French, Lao, Hmong and Khmu. As is the nature of surgery, teamwork and a collective focus overcame any language barriers and the surgery proceeded with ease.
Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery is important for a variety of reasons.
The birth defects can appear unsightly and have a detrimental social effect on both the child and the child’s family. They also can lead to developmental delays as the child may have difficulty feeding, which can result in malnutrition. Furthermore, the defects can delay the ability to speak, which can leave a child struggling with communication and education.
The optimal age for a cleft lip repair is 4 to 6 months and a palate by 12 months. Our youngest patient was seven months old and our oldest was a five-year-old child. The cleft palate patients will require further surgery when they are older as it is a multistage operation.
Dr. Han remarked while reconstructing the upper lip/nose of a young girl that he was being careful to create a “Lao” nose to help preserve her cultural identity. In Korea, he is a much sought after plastic surgeon for just this reason — his attention to detail and meticulous approach to his work.
Dr. Han and his colleagues donated their consultation time and surgical expertise at LFHC as a result of a partnership between our hospital and members of the Korean and Thai YMCAs.
He looks forward to returning to LFHC and we look forward to welcoming him back.