Ready or not, life often presents unexpected, difficult situations that we don’t quite know what to do with.
Like when Waterloo residents Mandee Rauscher-Woodring and her husband Kenny Woodring learned through a routine ultrasound that their son would be born with a cleft lip and palate.
“I was so scared for my son,” Mandee remembered. Babies born with cleft lip and palate often struggle to thrive because feeding is difficult. They undergo painful surgeries as infants, children and teens and work hard to overcome big challenges with hearing, speech and their dentition.
After careful consideration, she and her husband decided to switch providers and deliver their son at Strong Memorial Hospital, where a team of specialists from pediatric and plastic surgery, pediatric medicine, dentistry, audiology, social work, and speech and language are available to treat patients with cleft and craniofacial anomalies. There, Mandee and Kenny learned about a special and relatively new treatment done at UR’s Eastman Dental, called the Nasoalveolar Molding Technique, or NAM. A retainer-like device is placed in the infant’s mouth and over three to four months, helps align the bones, reduce the size of the cleft, reduce the number of surgeries needed, and dramatically improves the surgical and aesthetic result.
Despite the two-hour commute each week (often in snowstorms) for treatment at Eastman, Mandee and Kenny decided the NAM would be the best approach for their son, and began treatment one week after his birth on November 8, with Dr. Erin Shope, a pediatric dentist and NAM expert.
Throughout the following weeks, they, like other parents, found the NAM to be frustrating to deal with, and the baby was not thrilled about having it secured with tape.
“It was like a puzzle getting all that on there and for it all to stay,” said Mandee, who admitted wanting to give up at times, but knew she had to stick with it for Nathan’s benefit. “I used to get so anxious knowing I had to take it out to clean it and put it back in. And just when I would become more comfortable, there would be another change or another thing to tape.
“One time his skin broke out and became infected,” she continued. “The last few weeks were the hardest because it was nearly impossible to get the tape to stay from his middle lip to the NAM. But Dr. Shope is such an amazing, caring, flexible, supportive human being! She was very understanding and very professional.”
And then the Rauscher family experienced a horrible tragedy. One of Mandee’s brothers, 26-year-old Kory Rauscher, died in a snowmobile accident in early January.
One of four children of David and Kelly Rauscher, Kory was a perfectionist– a hardworking, fun loving guy who was a good son, a great friend and brother to Mandee, Jamie and Brandon.
“He wanted everything he did to be just right and would get frustrated if they weren’t,” said his older sister Jamie Rauscher. “We worked together since he graduated college, lived together in Pennsylvania for a while, fought together, laughed together, and traveled together. We were very much alike which created a special bond and relationship, to say the least.”
After earning his business degree, Kory went to work for his father at the family business, D.C. Rauscher, Inc., a natural gas services company. He began as a laborer, then equipment operator and eventually assumed the role of Operations Manager.
“When he wasn’t working, Kory loved spending time on the golf course,” said Jamie, who works at the family business. “I believe it was a place where he could escape the speed and demands of the industry and world in which we operate on a daily basis.”
Three of his closest friends wanted to pay tribute to Kory by hosting a charity golf tournament at a golf course in Waterloo where Kory played often. “They just wanted all of his friends and family to be able to come together in an environment in which Kory enjoyed himself.”
When Kory passed, many friends and colleagues wanted to make a donation in Kory’s name, and asked the family for suggestions on where. It was Kory’s father David who suggested directing donations to Eastman Dental, as a way to help other families managing care for babies with cleft lip and palate.
“It was a tough time for us with money and I was very anxious about how we were going to afford everything with new insurance plan, travel, copays,” Mandee said. “I was very thankful to Eastman for all they did. Dr. Shope always wore a smile and always gave props to us for doing most of the work. I was also thankful that Dr. Shope had great communication with the cleft team and they, along with Lenora the social worker, were able to find some financial support for us with gas.”
“I saw how much time and effort my sister and her husband had to commit to Nathan and his care since birth,” said Jamie. “I bought her some tape once… it is expensive! I love that we were able to raise money to help other families receive the care that Nathan has to make his surgeries successful.”
On a beautiful Saturday summer morning, 200 people gathered to honor their lost brother, son and friend, to celebrate how his life, despite how tragically short it was, made such a huge impact on so many around him.
“The weather was amazing and the atmosphere was just perfect!” Jamie said. “People who had never golfed in their life participated and had an amazing time. When I walked through the rows of golf carts as people were getting ready for the shotgun start, I got an overwhelming feeling of Kory telling me ‘this is the coolest thing I have EVER seen’!”
Thanks to the generosity of area businesses and friends and family, The Kory Rauscher Golf Tournament raised more than $3,500 to benefit children and families caring for their child with a cleft lip and palate and using the NAM.
“We are very happy to have used the NAM,” Mandee said. “I realize now that Nathan may have had to have multiple surgeries for his lip to come out as good as it did with just the one surgery. He looks great. The NAM did a lot in such a short time.”
“Little Nathan has been nothing but a gracious gift from God from the minute Mandee told us she was pregnant,” said Jamie. “He has taught us all so much about love and life and continues to everyday, especially through his surgeries and perseverance in overcoming his obstacles.
“Raising money to share and spread smiles on other babies’ faces and in their families’ hearts is as much a blessing to us as it is to those it will help,” added Jamie. “Most importantly Kory had a perfect smile so it’s only fitting that we help others smile in his memory.”
All photos taken and donated by JD Photography