Worries become grins with toddler’s tremendous progress

In the hurry of their daughter’s delivery and the stress of some unexpected news, Micheal and Katie Palmer forgot some specific instructions.

The Palmers knew their daughter, Charli Jo, had a cleft lip. When they met oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Jonathan Bailey before she was born, he handed them his cell phone number and his direct office number.

He told them to call him when Charli Jo arrived so he could come see the family.

But Charli Jo’s birth confirmed another fear. She had a cleft palate, as well, and was having trouble eating. In the blur, neither parent remembered to pick up the phone and call Dr. Bailey.

“That’s what made it so surprising,” Micheal said. “Charli Jo had to go to the NICU, Katie was recovering, and I was sorting through it all. We were all overwhelmed and learning so much about what was wrong.

“I don’t know how Dr. Bailey even knew Charli Jo was born, but he just showed up and was standing next to me. ... I'll never forget that.”

Dr. Bailey had seen similar looks on other parents’ faces. It was something like shell-shock.
He knew Micheal and Katie needed hope. And while the cleft palate altered their moment of pure joy, he quickly saw positive signs.

“Every cleft is subtly different, so the first thing you look for are the little positive physical signs that you can work with,” he said. “And there is almost always something that you can see right away that will work in your advantage when it comes time for the repair.”

That message was music to these new parents’ ears.

“He told us everything was going to be OK,” Micheal said. “It had been a very emotional day, but he gave us a sense of relief.”

This interaction set the tone for next 18-plus months, including two kinds of surgeries by Dr. Bailey and Dr. Ryan Porter.

Yet it wasn’t just that doctors conducted these surgeries that impressed the family; it was how the whole healthcare team conducted them.

“The first time Charli Jo went in for her palate surgery, she had a bronchial spasm, and the anesthesiologist basically made a decision that stopped the surgery and saved her life,” Katie said.

“The second time we went in for that surgery was probably the scariest moment, because, as a mom, you are just terrified something else will happen.

“They made decisions not just based off the job they had to do, but because they were worried about Charli Jo first.”

The Cleft Lip & Palate Team cares for patients like Charli Jo until they turn 18.

Dr. Bailey receives senior pictures. Graduation invitations come through the mail.

Dr. Bailey sees from Micheal and Katie the level of involvement and love that will override any struggles Charli Jo may face.

“The stability and maturity with which they’ve managed Charli Jo’s diagnosis is the best prognosis for her,” Dr. Bailey said.

Since the moment she was born, Charli Jo has changed her parents’ lives.

“We want for Charli Jo what all other parents want,” Katie said. “We want Charli Jo to be herself, no matter what. And I want her to live her life despite her cleft; she should know that this doesn’t define who she is.”