Photo of Andrew and Kaylee Paredes: Smiling Through Life with a Cleft Lip and Palate

“There’s something we need to tell you.”

When Laura Lee Rose heard these words shortly after giving birth to her first child, she didn’t know what to expect. By her own admission, she was “out of it” after the birth, but she clearly remembers that before she saw her daughter for the first time, the nurses wanted to prepare her for something. Kaylee had been born with a cleft lip and cleft palate.

Fortunately for Kaylee’s parents, one of the nurses had a daughter with the same condition. She quickly showed Laura Lee pictures of her five-year-old’s winning smile, which allayed some of Laura Lee’s fears. So she knew it was a correctable birth defect, but she was also well aware that it would be a long road ahead for Kaylee.

So what is a cleft lip and palate? According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, “A cleft palate is an opening or split in the roof of the mouth that occurs when the tissue doesn’t fuse together during development in the womb. A cleft palate often includes a split (cleft) in the upper lip (cleft lip) but can occur without affecting the lip.”

In Kaylee’s words, “There’s basically a hole from the back of my throat up through my nose. It wasn’t closed, so there was just a big opening.”

The birth defect is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cannot be predicted or prevented, based on current research. Currently, most parents are aware of this condition before their child is born. However, when Kaylee was born in the 1980s, ultrasounds weren’t as sophisticated or as widespread as they are today, so her parents and doctor weren’t aware she had a cleft lip and palate until she was born.

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