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more articles by Lewis, Jeffrey S. , DMD, MD  |  author's bio

Local Cleft Palate Team Helps All Ages

Helping Children with Facial Deformities

By Jeffrey S. Lewis, MD, DMD


Cleft palate is a very common birth defect in the United States, effecting one in every 800 births. Three to five babies are born every year at Cayuga Medical Center with cleft lip, cleft palate, and other facial deformities. Additional babies and children come to Tompkins County from the surrounding region for services, and a number of children with facial deformities move here each year with their families.


Since 1996 the Cleft Palate and Facial Deformities Team at Cayuga Medical Center has been helping these children, who typically experience functional problems related to eating and speech, as well as psychosocial problems. Our multidisciplinary team has evaluated and provided collaborative treatment to dozens of newborns, children, and adults since we began our work twelve years ago. Currently we are actively following 50 patients of various ages.


What makes this team unique?


We provide all needed services right here in our community. All of the children we help receive the same level of care, regardless of financial means. We are able to do this because every specialist serving on the team donates his or her services with no expectation of payment, as does Cayuga Medical Center. This means that children with complex treatment needs from families with insufficient resources receive the same level of care as those whose families have adequate coverage. A family network of parents provides new parents with support and information about what to expect.


The Cleft Palate and Facial Deformities Team focuses not merely on the upcoming operations, but rather on the arc of a child’s particular needs over the coming years. Team members include experienced professionals in newborn nursing care and lactation, oral and maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery, speech and language therapy, pediatrics, ENT, pediatric and general dentistry, orthodontics, developmental psychology, occupational therapy, audiology, genetics, and social work. The parents’ network adds the important dimension of peer support from people who understand firsthand what the children and families are experiencing.


How does the team work?


When a baby with facial deformities is born at Cayuga Medical Center, I make contact with the parents that same day. Terri MacCheyne, director of Maternal-Child Health, and I meet with the parents to evaluate the infant and to begin coordination of services right away. These new mothers often need help with breastfeeding and that coaching begins immediately.


The specialists on our unified treatment team hold a clinic twice a year where each patient is seen by every team member. We develop recommendations and a treatment plan, which I subsequently share with the family. We talk about the child’s specific needs and how we will meet them. We also stay in constant communication with families and schools, and work hard to coordinate the different components of service and support. We are committed to removing as many obstacles to care as possible.

We are here to help; we do not turn children away. If you call us needing help, the answer will be yes. If a child needs to see our team between the scheduled clinics, we make it happen. I can be reached at (607) 277-7007.

Dr. Lewis is board certified in cosmetic surgery and oral and maxillofacial surgery. He serves on the medical staff of Cayuga Medical Center, where he chairs the Cleft Palate and Facial Deformities Team, and is a faculty member at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Dr. Lewis is in practice at Cayuga Facial Surgery, where he can be reached at (607) 277-7007.


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