Family, doc share story of girl's cleft lip and palate

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - Donnie and Jessica Manker of Griggsville were excited for the birth of their second child.

“She was a surprise from the beginning,” Jessica said. “We were thrilled to have another little girl.”

Twenty-four weeks into Jessica’s pregnancy, they learned that their daughter would be born with a cleft lip and palate.

“We had no idea what it was,” Jessica said. “I’d heard of it, but that was about it.”

Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that form when babies’ lips or mouths do not form properly during pregnancy. Experts estimate one in 600 children are born with the condition.

“There’s a lot of functional implications actually, other than the appearance of a child that has a cleft lip or a cleft palate,” said Dr. Kevin Calder of SIU School of Medicine. “Children have a difficult time swallowing. They have a difficult time chewing, feeding.”

Calder has experience treating cleft lip and palate.

“I do a lot of work in and around Central and Southern Illinois,” Calder said. “I also do a lot of international work with charitable organizations to help children who don’t have access to medical and surgical care.”

Jessica gave birth to her daughter Gwendolyn. The Mankers met with Calder, and Gwendolyn underwent two surgeries to treat her cleft.

“It was a little rough,” Jessica said. “We weren’t quite prepared for how hard recovery was going to be. She had to be syringe-fed and have arm restraints. She was not a fan of that.”

Months later, Gwendolyn is in good spirits. Her face shows little sign of the cleft or surgery.

“We’ve saved all the pictures and everything from the process … so she’ll know how strong she really is,” Jessica said.  

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