It has been my privilege for the past 60 years to be a member of cleft palate teams at 2 hospitals in the St Louis region. These teams comprise groups of health care specialists who render treatment and rehabilitative care for children with congenital defects, including cleft lip and palate and other craniofacial deformities. In 50 years of private practice, my brother Peter and I treated hundreds of patients, many under the auspices of the Illinois and Missouri Crippled Children’s Services. Many of these children relied on agencies and charitable organizations for the financing of this most important rehabilitative care. When circumstances arose wherein financial assistance was not forthcoming, we, in our practice and in the Saint Louis University Graduate Orthodontic Program, were able to treat many wonderful children at a reduced or no cost.
It is well known that the stigma of the deformities caused by cleft lip and cleft palate can manifest itself in a person’s psychic makeup. It’s easy for a cleft child to assume a defeatist attitude and carry it throughout his or her entire life, disregarding other aspects of personal appearance, and caring even less for his or her general health.
Untreated, these children can grow up unhappy and generally unhealthy. In addition, the cleft child might also find it difficult to make personal and social adjustments, and this can affect success in school and ability to earn a living later in life.
The social aspect of the habilitation of the cleft palate patient is important. Patients, as well as their noncleft family and friends, must learn to accept each other. The world revolves only with the cooperation of the people who live in it and their willingness to get along and share every phase of human rights. A scarred lip or an opening in the roof of the mouth does not indicate a lack of feelings or the absence of a heart whose warmth shelters its many secret sorrows; rather, it is expressive of the need for others, whether by our talents or philanthropy, to accept their problems and do all in our power to alleviate their discomforts, both psychological and physical.
The purpose of this Editorial is to reach out to organizations, foundations, benefactors, and practitioners in hopes of obtaining assistance for more people. Because of the current economic situation, we are aware that even more cleft patients cannot afford the services they need. Orthodontics plays a very important part in the total rehabilitative care of these patients. As with other specialized services, fees are sometimes beyond the parents’ means or might be denied by some insurance or health care programs. In addition, the fee for orthodontic treatment for a cleft patient might be greater than for traditional orthodontics because it is more complex and spans many years.
In response to the need for more treatment for cleft patients, we have lowered our fees, and when the need is great, we have found other sources to pay the entire fee. Please consider doing the same. For me, every time a former patient runs up to me, throws his or her arms around me, and gives me a big hug, that’s payment enough.
Thank you so much for understanding our deep concern, and we hope that we can gain your support in helping us to continue our heartfelt mission of improving the lives of some wonderful children.
[Editor’s note: Dr Sotiropoulos began treating children with cleft lip and palate in 1948. He retired in 2014 at the age of 89 and died on June 12, 2015.]