of the month
By Rich Petersen
José de Jesús Cortez Sánchez
Our child this month is 9-month old José de Jesús Cortez Sánchez. He is the youngest of three children who lives with his parents in Chapala. José was born with a cleft lip and palate. You may have seen children with this birth anomaly, not that uncommon actually, occurring in approximately one in 700 newborns. These children have an elongated opening in the upper lip that may range from a small notch in the upper lip, to an opening that extends into the base of the nostril. The cleft lip may be below the right or left nostril, or below both nostrils. (NOTE TO READERS: this condition used to be called “hare lip,” but this term is now considered insensitive, hence the term “cleft lip/ palate.”)
Causes for a cleft lip/palate are multifactorial, i.e., many contributing factors: genetic (inherited), tobacco or alcohol use during pregnancy, some prescription drug interactions, and also the mother’s nutrition. Surgery to correct this deformity is actually uncomplicated, and should be performed within the first one-to-three months of age, the goal being to close the gap in the upper lip, place scars in the natural skin curves and to repair muscle so that the lip appears normal during movement. Little José de Jesús’s surgery had to be postponed because of a couple of bouts of a cold and fever, plus the little guy wasn’t gaining weight.
Not being able to eat enough is the number one problem in children with a cleft lip/palate because due to the lip/palate deformity, they cannot achieve sufficient suction on a nipple (natural or otherwise) to take in the necessary calories. Prior to surgery, cleft palate/lip babies must use a different type of nipple on their feeding bottles, a nipple which here in Mexico costs $25-30 USD, and these need to be replaced several times a month.
José has had his first surgery and is already eating better according to his mother, Ana Yésica. When we first met him he could not smile in a “normal” way, but at our last meeting he was able to smile much more easily, especially when given a small teddy bear to play with.
Niños Incapacitados has been assisting José and his family with reimbursement for the special nipples, for transportation to and from Guadalajara to see his doctors pre- and post-op, and for the medications he needs right now to avoid any infection. In Mexico this type of surgery is free of charge for any newborn, excluding of course any medicines or special circumstances. In Guadalajara there is a special hospital called the Hospital for Reconstructive Surgery where these procedures are done. Also there is a worldwide organization called “Operation Smile” which travels to almost every country to provide free cleft lip/palate surgeries to children. When they are in Mexico, Niños Incapacitados is notified so we can refer any of our children to them so the surgery can take place perhaps sooner than would be expected.
Little José will require at least two more surgeries as well as some speech therapy before his face is fully back to “normal.” We will keep you posted on his progress.
NOTE: Niños Incapacitados “takes the summer off” as far as regular monthly meetings go; thus, we will meet again on Thursday, September 13. Same time and place—10:00 a.m. in one of the meeting rooms of the Hotel Real de Chapala in La Floresta. Please join us to learn more about what we do and to meet another of “our” children. Our bimonthly meetings with parents and children to reimburse them for medical expenses does continue throughout the summer, and fundraising activities are ongoing. And over the summer you will still read about some of our children here in the Ojo.