Complex Care Gives Landon New Reasons to Smile


Jennifer and Jason Rice felt shock and fear when they learned their son Landon would be born with a cleft lip – a defect many people think only occurs in developing nations.

That fear quickly dissipated, however, when the couple met Dr. Mimi Chao, a pediatric plastic surgeon at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera.

“She knew exactly what she was talking about,” Jennifer recalled. “She put us at ease.”

“There were other places we could have gone, but we chose Valley Children’s,” Jason said of our pediatric medical facility more than two hours from their Atascadero home. “They hire only experts.”

Expert team

Cleft lip and/or cleft palate are abnormal gaps in the upper lip, roof of the mouth or both. They usually result when the face and mouth do not form correctly during pregnancy. Each year in the United States, about 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate, and 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The deformity may cause feeding, speech and hearing problems after birth. Surgeries can help restore normal function and appearance. Dr. Chao is part of the only cleft and craniofacial team in Central California approved by the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association that treats this common birth defect.

“Our experienced, comprehensive team helps prepare parents before and after the birth of a child with cleft and other congenital conditions,” Dr. Chao said. “We address each child’s individual needs as they grow, often until adulthood.”

New reasons to smile

Landon was born with a bilateral cleft lip, meaning both sides of his upper lip were affected. Surgery at 4 months old to repair the severe anomaly gave him new reasons to smile.

“Now he can eat spaghetti, drink through a straw, blow bubbles,” said Jason, glancing at Landon as he slurped long noodles at the kitchen table.

“This experience made us redefine the word ‘perfect,’” Jennifer added. “Landon was perfect the way he was. Valley Children’s made him more perfect. Celebrities would pay good money for a perfect pout like his!”

So when Jennifer found out their next baby would be born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, she said, “I told my OB, ‘Don’t worry, Dr. Chao will fix it!’ We knew our son Keaton would be in the best hands.”