Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s is opening a new plastic surgery program for children with facial deformities. The Cleft and Craniofacial Program, led by Victor Chien, MD, addresses the needs of any pediatric patient with a congenital craniofacial difference, including cleft lip and cleft palate, ear and jaw deformities, skull bones that fuse prematurely, as well as birthmarks.  

“In the cleft lip and cleft palate cases, these can be picked up in a prenatal screening, as early as 18 to 22 weeks,” says Chien. “We meet with the families in a prenatal visit and come up with a detailed plan for surgical intervention, so the parents know what to expect after birth.” 

Chien says both cleft lip and cleft palate negatively affect the ability of a baby to feed as well as speak normally. Fortunately, babies as young as 3 months can undergo cleft lip surgery because the lip is important for breast and bottle feeding. Cleft palate, which is a separation of the roof of the mouth, can affect a child’s ability to speak, so physicians aim to surgically treat the defect when the child is a little older and learning to speak. 

The premature fusing of the skull bones, known as craniosynostosis, can restrict the growth of the brain, impact brain function and cause abnormally shaped heads. This, too, requires a surgical plan to free up abnormal fusion and growth restriction as well as change the child’s appearance.  

“Nobody plans on having a child with a craniofacial difference,” says Chien, “but when a parent gets that diagnosis, it can be very stressful. Our goal at Guerin Children’s for the Cleft and Craniofacial Program is to be your lifelong partner. Many of these diagnoses require multiple operations and follow-up, and we are going to be with children and their parents every step of the way.”