As a medical student, Dr. Cathy Henry knew she wanted to be a pediatrician. Then she did a rotation with pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Donald Mackay at the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic.
“It was life-changing,” Henry said. “The clinic just felt special. They really took care of patients the way we wish we could in every aspect of medicine. I knew then I had to become a pediatric plastic surgeon.”
Today, Henry is part of the pediatric surgery team at Penn State Children’s Hospital that performs cleft lip, palate and other craniofacial procedures for the clinic’s patients. All follow-up is then done at the clinic, where the three surgeons with a combined 47 years of experience—Mackay, Henry and Dr. Thomas Samson —interact with patients, families, and a multidisciplinary team that has been improving children’s lives for eight decades.
Orthodontist H.K. Cooper founded the nonprofit Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic in 1938. “Up until that time, children with cleft palates received piecemeal care—surgery from one person, dental care from another, speech and hearing from another,” said Mackay, who has been with the clinic for nearly 30 years. Cooper was the first to create a team—an orthodontist, plastic surgeon and speech pathologist—to deliver cleft care.
Roughly 1 in 700 children are born with a cleft, which can range from a small notch on the lip or palate to a significant one-sided or bilateral cleft. Normally, the tissues that make up a baby’s lip and palate fuse together in the second and third months of pregnancy. But in babies with cleft lip and cleft palate, the fusion never takes place or occurs only partway, leaving an opening. Researchers believe that most cases are caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. In many babies, a definite cause isn’t discovered.
The Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic follows between 2,000 and 2,500 patients annually. About one-third of its patients come from Lancaster County and surrounding areas, while the remaining two-thirds come from throughout Pennsylvania and other states. It’s the only craniofacial center between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The clinic cares for all patients regardless of ability to pay.
While the clinic’s reach has grown, so too has its team, which today includes a feeding specialist, dentist, audiologist, hearing therapist, pedodontist (pediatric dentist), and social worker, in addition to an orthodontist, speech pathologist, and the plastic surgeons. “No one discipline dominates the team, and that’s important,” Mackay said.
Read more about the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic in this Penn State Medicine article.
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