Cleft Lip and Palate Specialists Invite Clinic Supporters to Walk Miles for Smiles on June 10

For more than 40 years, UM specialists have turned heartache into smiles by performing the multiple surgeries and providing the array of services children born with cleft lips and palates often need to correct the disfiguring anomalies.

Though medical costs are usually covered by Medicaid, the long process can exact a financial toll on patients and their families, who must take time off from school and work for regular appointments at the South Florida Cleft & Craniofacial Clinic at the Department of Pediatrics’ Mailman Center for Child Development.

That’s among the reasons the clinic is sponsoring the first of what is planned to be an annual Miles for Smiles: Cleft Lip and Palate 5K Run/Walk on Sunday, June 10. “Sometimes we dig into our own pockets to pay for their parking, or give them money to take the bus home,” said Seth Thaller, M.D., D.M.D., professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Plastic, Aesthetic, and Reconstructive Surgery.

In addition to contributing to patient care and advancing research, proceeds from the 3.1-mile race, which begins at 7 a.m. at Aventura Mall and circles the Turnberry Golf Course, will help establish a resource library at the first-floor clinic for parents who invariably yearn to learn more after their baby is born with the second most common congenital anomaly in the world.

“When the family first finds out, they want to know, ‘What did I do wrong? How did I cause it?’ There is that inherent guilt, but no single cause. It’s multifaceted,” Thaller said. “Then they want to know how to feed the baby, what to expect post-op care, what they should know about nutrition. There are a lot of questions that they always ask.”

About one in every 650 newborns have a separation in their upper lip, or the roof of their mouth, or both, conditions which not only affect appearance and self-esteem, but speech, hearing and dental and physical development.

But since joining the faculty and recreating the clinic’s multidisciplinary approach 18 years ago, Thaller and the pediatricians, dentists, hearing and speech therapists, psychologists, social workers, geneticists and other specialists on the clinic team have made significant strides in the treatment and management of cleft lips and palates.

In fact, they can assure most parents that, although their children may grow up visiting the clinic and undergo a number of surgeries until they reach adulthood, they can lead normal lives. Thaller hopes families who already have made that journey will turn out this Sunday, and show those just starting out how worthwhile it is.

“It’s why I love doing these surgeries,” Thaller said. “In almost a flash, you’ve completely changed a kid’s life for the better. It’s almost instant gratification. Think about how many things in medicine you can say that about.”

For more information about the race or the clinic, call 305-243-4500.

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