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Published on June 20, 2017

emmalynn after cleft repair surgery

From Texas to Sioux Falls: Cleft Repair Shows Instant Benefits (Part 2)

This is the second part of Emmalynn's story. Read the first part.

It wasn’t long before Brooke Lowe-Farmer noticed the benefits of her daughter Emmalynn’s surgery to repair her cleft lip.

Just hours after the surgery Emmalynn finished a 4 oz. bottle within minutes instead of hours. Then she took a nap lying flat on her back for the first time ever.

“Watching her suck down 4 ounces so quickly, I think she even startled herself because she couldn’t suck before and it would take her a long time to finish one bottle,” Brooke said. “It was just amazing to see the benefit so quickly after surgery.”

Emmalynn was born with a cleft lip and also has a small cleft in the alveolar arch where the teeth come in. Before the surgery Emmalynn wore tape to help move the cleft closer into place. At 3 months old, she had surgery to repair the cleft lip and will have a scar that is barely visible if at all, said Barry Martin, MD, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon with Avera Medical Group. She will need another surgery around age 8 to repair her alveolar arch.

Repairing Cleft Syndromes

About one or two out of every 1,000 babies in the developed world are born with a cleft lip or palate. Martin said cleft lips are repaired at 3 – 6 months of age while a palate would be repaired by 18 months of age.

“Everybody expects their child to be perfect in every way and these are visible flaws that people don’t always realize are conditions that can be fixed,” Martin said. “Fortunately as an experienced team, we can make these things near normal again.”

Martin and his partner, Mark Shashikant, MD, joined Avera Medical Group about a year ago and are building a team to offer cleft repair in children and adults.

About 20 percent of their service is with children right now and Martin expects that to grow. Helping children with cleft syndromes is a team approach, which includes a surgeon, pediatricians, speech pathologist and dentists to make sure the infant has the care needed to stay healthy and prepare for the surgery and continue to thrive after it.

“With ultrasound resolution these days doctors can usually tell when there is a cleft of any degree prenatally, which is an advantage to the parents because we can be prepared and plan to treat it,” he said.

‘Mom, I Got This’

Emmalynn’s road to Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center was a long one. After receiving word that her daughter had a genetic anomaly, and scared for the worst, Brooke packed her kids and the dog in the car and drove them home to where she knew she would receive good care. But it wasn’t a few miles, it was a few hundred miles from Fort Hood, Texas. To make matters more difficult her husband was deployed and her foster son Clark had to regularly check in with social services in Texas.

She made the trip to Sioux Falls six times, meeting with her obstetrics team and also Dr. Martin to plan her daughter’s surgery.

But from the very first meeting, Brooke said she was confident in Dr. Martin, who is also retired military.

“He was always so confident and reassuring,” Brooke said. “On the day of the surgery, he said, ‘Mom I got this, just relax. She’s beautiful.’ I just felt at ease and comfortable leaving my precious baby girl in his care.”

Snowstorm Reroute

The day before Emmalynn was to have her surgery, a snowstorm came through Sioux Falls. Brooke and Emmalynn were on a plane circling the Sioux Falls Regional Airport but were unable to land. Instead, the plane went back to Texas and Brooke feared she’d have to wait weeks or months to get another opening with Dr. Martin.

But his nurse knew she probably wouldn’t land, and by the time Brooke talked to her the next day the surgery had been rescheduled for the following Monday.

“I honestly cried because I was so overwhelmed that she thought of us and was able to fit us into the schedule and make it happen,” Brooke said.

Martin said that’s just another example of Avera’s commitment to care.

“It’s a tribute to the Avera system and our team for sure,” Martin said. “Imagine their torture of seeing an airfield and not being able to land.”

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