For babies like Elijah who are born with cleft lip and palate, there is a small window of time shortly after the baby’s birth before corrective surgery, when parents can work with experts using a nasoalveolar molding device—or NAM—to help shape the baby’s gum lip, and nose.
Each week, Elijah’s parents David and Anna drive two hours one way from the Syracuse area to receive this treatment from the experts at Eastman Dental, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“When we learned from an ultrasound that our baby would have a bilateral cleft lip and palate, we knew we really needed a pediatric dentist and pediatric orthodontist who knew how to, not only manage his teeth coming in, but his cleft and the gum line,” said Anna. “As we looked into the options available we knew that Rochester, at Eastman Dental, was the only place within a good driving distance.”
To minimize exposure during the COVID 19 crisis, Eastman’s NAM experts decided to meet the family outside Elijah’s critically important adjustments.
Wearing personal protective equipment, Dr. Erin Shope, greets the family curbside and retrieves the NAM appliance. Inside, she takes about a half hour in the lab to make the necessary adjustments to the device. Cleaning it and placing in a sterile bag, she goes back outside where the family is waiting. The family places the NAM back in Elijah’s mouth.
“Using the NAM has made a really big difference for Elijah’s health now and we can already see how it’s going to make a big difference for him for years to come,” said Anna. “He’s had a much easier time eating and with self-soothing, and even beyond that, it will make his first surgery a lot easier, and his recovery will go a lot better.”
Garnering a lot of media attention locally and regionally, this drive by dentistry story led one viewer to reach out, wanting to help the family. Very touched, Anna asked the thoughtful donor if she would instead consider making a donation to an existing fund at Eastman that helps families with babies born with cleft lip and palate. She and David have gratefully benefited from the fund.
Because Eastman Dental, the clinical arm of UR Medicine’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health, is the only place in the region that provides the NAM treatment, families travel long distances each week during their baby’s first three to four months for adjustments. The fund was initially established by the Rauschers, a Waterloo, NY family who lost beloved family member Kory in a snowmobile accident. Kory’s nephew Nathan received NAM services at Eastman. Each year, part of the proceeds from the family’s Kory Rauscher Memorial Golf Tournament, go to this fund that provides gas cards and expensive NAM supplies.
“We were so touched by their story that it brought tears to our eyes,” said Barb Hulbert, who, with her husband Joe, made a generous donation to the existing fund. “Our daughter benefited from these services 37 years ago. We hope our donation can benefit their family and other families. Elijah is just adorable. Their family will be in our thoughts and prayers through this journey.”
UR Medicine's Golisano Children's Hospital houses an entire Cleft and Craniofacial Team, led by plastic surgeon Dr. Clinton Morrison, where patients with craniofacial conditions are seen by a multidisciplinary team throughout their childhood and developing years. For babies born with cleft lip and palate, the NAM is the first of many dental and medical stages the child will go through.
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