UVM Medical Center helping children with cleft palates

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) There are more than 200,000 kids diagnosed with a cleft lip or palate each year. Patients who previously went through the Vermont Department of Health to get care will soon go through the University of Vermont Medical Center.

For many years, the state of Vermont has been running the Children's Special Health Needs clinic. Now, the state will hand over financial and administrative responsibility to the hospital, where patients are already getting their care. Starting at the end of the month, patients will go through the UVM Medical Center to get care with cleft problems.

"I was shocked when I heard all of this -- it was so painful for me," said Brashand Singh, whose son has cleft problems.

His son was premature. His lungs and ears were not developed and he spent the first 15 days of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It turns out those weren’t the only problems.

"There was a problem in the cleft so he was talking through his nose," Singh said.

He didn't know in order to improve his son's condition, his son would need plastic surgery. He sought out advice from various professionals.

At the time, his son got all of his medical attention from the state. Soon, the UVM Medical Center will be the place for all families in Vermont to go should they have questions or concerns regarding cleft.

In Vermont, doctors say they see 7-10 new cases of cleft each year. One of the people who helps families through their journey is Dr. Thomas Willson, Director of the Cleft and Cranial Facial Program.

"Because the cleft alters the structure of the mouth, they have speech that's easy to understand but that can generally be fixed with a combination of speech therapy and a little surgery," Willson said.

Oftentimes, cleft problems are found before the mother gives birth, so treatment options are discussed while the baby is in the womb. Willson says parents who have kids with cleft problems shouldn't be worried.

"The main takeaway is that most of these kids are just regular kids with one facial difference," Willson said.

As for Singh, his son is doing great after the surgery.

"After the different surgeries he’s perfect, he's good. We don't need speech therapy for him," Singh said.

Willson says there's not a lot of prevention when it comes to cleft.

He did say an ultrasound is a good way to check and see if your baby could be affected.

The UVM clinic opens Jan. 23 and they will see patients on the fourth Wednesday of the month.