Surgeons give disfigured baby one-of-a-kind surgery

Imagine being so disfigured you could not close your mouth, and when you ate, food came out of your eye.

That was the reality for one baby.

It was something her surgeons say they have never seen before.

Now, here is a look at if their one-of-a-kind procedure paid off for her.

Ask host mom Gina Denlinger about baby Asmaou, and she talks about her personality.

Gina says, "She's a very calm, sweet content baby."

However, the reason this child has travelled 5,000 miles from Africa is because of her appearance. Asmaou was born with a facial cleft. It not only affects the lip and palate, but the entire face and the underlying bone.

"If we fed her solid food, it would come out there, in the bottom of her eye."

Plastic surgeon Brian Pan of Shriners Children's Hospital in Cincinnati took on the challenging case.

Dr. Pan says, “There's a lack of tissue as well as bone in the mid-face, and then obviously, there's a cleft in her lip."

Since Asmaou's eye didn't close all the way, she also risked blindness. With little on the books about her condition, Dr. Pan took what he knew about pediatric plastic surgery and created a one-of-a-kind procedure for Asmaou using her existing skin and tissue. Her initial five-hour surgery was carefully planned out, taking into account her need for future surgeries.

"This process for her is going to be over the next 18 years of her life as she continues to grow."

Gina says, "I couldn't imagine what she would look like with everything put back together."

There is now a face that matches baby Asmaou's sweet personality.

Asmaou is set for her next surgery sometime this summer.

Then, she'll head back to Africa until she needs another procedure.


BACKGROUND: Oro-facial clefts are birth defects where the mouth, or roof of the mouth, does not form properly while in the womb. A cleft is a separation in a body structure, often resulting from the failure of tissues to grow together properly. Oral facial clefts may involve the lip, the roof of the mouth (hard palate) or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth (soft palate). Oro-facial clefts are one of the most common birth defects in the United States occurring in 1 of 750 births. (Source:,

SYMPTOMS: The major symptom of a cleft lip or cleft palate is a visible opening in the lip or palate. Other symptoms include: feeding problems (especially with cleft palate), problems with speech development, dental problems, including missing teeth, especially when cleft lip extends to the upper gum area, recurrent Otitis Media, and hearing problems. A doctor can diagnose cleft lip or cleft palate by examining a newborn baby. A newborn with an oral-facial cleft may be referred to a team of medical specialists almost immediately after birth. Rarely, a partial or "submucous" cleft palate may be left undiagnosed for several months or even years. (Source:

CAUSES: The lip and palate develop separately, but both form very early in fetal development. Oral facial clefts occur 5 to 9 weeks after conception if tissues in the developing mouth fail to merge together and fully fuse. The cause of oral facial clefts is thought to be caused from several reasons including genes as well as environmental factors. Oral facial clefts are often associated with other birth defects as part of a syndrome. More than 200 syndromes are associated with orofacial clefts including Stickler's syndrome, 22q11 deletion syndrome, Van der Woude syndrome. Often syndromes associated with oral facial clefts have a recognized chromosomal or genetic cause. (Source:

TREATMENTS: Due to the many variations in clefts, there is no specific cure or treatment for the cleft repair. However one plastic surgeon is setting the bar in facial cleft repair. Plastic surgeon Brian Pan of Shriners Children's Hospital in Cincinnati is helping children with facial clefts. Since doctors do not have a solution's manual for this type of birth defect, Dr. Pan uses his experience for coming up with a solution for repairing clefts.

"There's no cookie cutter way of dealing with each patient and you have to do it truly on an individualized basis. Each operation is tailored for the patient," Dr. Pan explained.

(Source:, interview with Ivanhoe Broadcast News)


Brian Pan, MD
Shriners Hospitals for Children
Cincinnati, OH

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