It’s a day Caitlan Williams and her husband will never forget. A day where happiness and hope quickly turned to fear. “It was April 2004. I’d just delivered our first child, a boy. Right before my baby was handed to me the delivery physician said, “don’t worry we can fix this.” I wasn’t sure what she meant,” said Williams. “Then, I saw my child for the first time. I was overcome with love, confusion and worry,” she added.
Williams’ baby, Jack, had a significant tear in his lip (cleft lip) and a hole in the roof of his mouth (cleft palate). “I was scared. I cried and cried. I didn’t know anything about this condition,” Williams said.
Williams is sharing her story as July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness and improve understanding of orofacial clefts (clefts of the lip and palate) and other conditions of the head and face.
A person born with a cleft condition can face a host of health complications including difficulty with eating, drinking, speaking, and hearing, as well as social stigmatization. “In public, people would stare and whisper. Doctors told me my son would need metal and screws in his mouth. It was all so overwhelming,” said Williams.
The new mom made a life-changing decision, “I left my career as a lawyer and pursued becoming a nurse,” Williams proudly stated. “I wanted to be educated from a medical standpoint to best help my child” she added.
Jack has had five cleft related surgeries. More are scheduled to help correct his speech, lip, nose, and jaw. “Today, my son is a bright 16-year-old who loves video games, animals and playing the piano. Being a nurse has helped me make better and more informed decisions for my son. It also gives me the strength and skills to help other parents with children born with a cleft condition,” Williams said.
Williams has volunteered with Operation Smile, an international nonprofit that offers free surgeries to children born with cleft lip and cleft palate. “There are so many people living with a cleft condition. Donating my skills and time to Operation Smile is a way for me to support children like Jack and to offer families hope,” Williams concluded.
About Operation Smile: Operation Smile has provided hundreds of thousands of safe surgeries for those born with cleft lip and cleft palate. With more than three decades of expertise, Operation Smile creates solutions that deliver free surgery to people where it’s needed most. As one of the largest medical volunteer-based nonprofits, Operation Smile has mobilized thousands of medical volunteers from a wide range of medical specialties from more than 80 countries. Operation Smile engages public-private partnerships to advance health care delivery, train local medical professionals to provide surgical care for patients in their communities, donate crucial medical equipment and supplies, and increase access to surgical care so that everyone living with cleft is treated. Visit operationsmile.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram and Twitter.