A Dental Christmas Time Story?

December 2009

As the Christmas season approaches there is an amazing transition that occurs in the lives of hundreds of millions of people each year. It is a time of great joy, a time when people respect each other and a time when our hearts and minds are filled with the blessing of the Holy Spirit. It is a time to savor present joys and past memories of home, family and friends, good days and hard times, and a time to reach out and give thanks to God for the richness in our lives.

This article is dedicated to human compassion and the altruism displayed by a married couple whose unselfish actions forever changed a young boy’s life, in the true spirit of Christmas.

The birth of their child was a precious gift they had long awaited and dreamed of. He was a wonderful baby and possessed all the greatness as witnessed in any child, except that his face displayed a genetic defect that greatly transformed his appearance. This sweet and precious baby, needing love and attention, innocent to his condition, was whisked away from his mother’s arms and immediately taken for immediate medical evaluation. His start into the world was abrupt and challenging. This theme would so mark the balance of his young life.

The baby was afflicted by an unsightly disorder known as bilateral cleft lip and palate.   It resulted from incomplete development and fusion of his upper jaw, lip and nose. Oral-facial clefts are among the most common congenital anomalies, and occur in approximately one out of every five-hundred births.

This child’s parents faced the most difficult decision in their young lives. Could they financially and psychologically provide for their child in this dental related need? As the child looked up at them and displayed his loving spirit through his compassionate and needing eyes, they knew then that they were not ready in their young lives to embrace the needs and demands required to care for their child’s special needs. Christopher was soon after placed in a foster home, with pending hopes and prayers of a better life.

The year was 1985, and after spending the first year of his life in a foster home in South Korea, Christopher was adopted by an American couple and brought to his new home in the United States. The unselfish decision to adopt this child was only superseded by their loving compassion to select a child possessing a cleft lip and palate, because they knew many couples might overlook him for adoption.   Looking beyond his defect this couple could identify with Christopher’s wonderful spirit even as a baby. Dedication, nurturing and support were the traits Christopher’s adoption parents knew they must possess to raise their new child to his greatest potential.

Christopher had two splits that extended from his palate onto his upper lip and extended to each nostril. It further resulted in loss of eleven of his permanent teeth. Surgery after surgery was strategically performed in order to help him develop physically. However, even after numerous operations in the United States, his condition had been altered, but not successfully corrected.

During the crucial developmental stages of his life, Christopher was constantly being stared at and ridiculed for something that he absolutely had no control over. Imagine how Christopher felt as a child in grade school, being from Korea, having a cleft lip and palate defect, and in braces. He simply wanted his physical defect to go away. The stress ultimately caused him to develop a generalized anxiety disorder characterized by not eating well, being a loner and not having a happy, normal outlook on life. Christopher became emotionally drained with virtually no self-esteem. Following a total of twenty different surgeries, his family’s financial resources were completely drained, leaving them with little hope to ever correctly repair their son’s condition. Christopher’s confidence and hope had plummeted and he resigned to accepting that his current appearance was as good as it would ever be.

Dentistry now offered the final hope for Christopher, in the form of complimentary care never needed more than for this fine young man.   A thorough diagnosis, review of his medical-surgical history, a comprehensive restorative treatment plan with six months of seamlessly staged treatment, now allowed Christopher at age twenty, to emerge as a confident young man with the appearance he had always dreamed. The wall that Christopher had built up to shield himself from the world, and the cruel stares and hurtful comments, slowly came down. The new Christopher, harboring many years of anguish, thankful for his adoption parents and the gift dentistry had to offer him, has now formally began to introduce himself to the world and he looks into his future with confidence and optimism for the very first time in his life.