Never Give Up Your Dream: The Chris Elsberry Story

February 2008

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

This article is dedicated to human compassion and the altruism displayed by a married couple whose unselfish actions reverberated to others and forever changed a young boy’s life. This is what it is like when you follow your dream.

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 a child by Mr. and Mrs. Elsberry was only superseded by their loving compassion to select a child afflicted by an unsightly condition known as “bilateral cleft lip and palate”. This is a birth defect resulting from incomplete development and fusion of the upper jaw, lip and nose. 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. Corrective surgery was required in order for him to properly function, but even after numerous operations in the United States, his condition had been altered, but not successfully corrected.

Christopher was in the 7th grade, at age 13, when he was seen by an orthodontist for traditional braces. During this crucial developmental stage of his life, Christopher was constantly being stared at and ridiculed for something that he absolutely had no control over. Imagine how Christopher felt, being from Korea, having a cleft lip and palate defect, and in braces. He simply wanted his physical defect to go away. “Christopher suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder characterized by being a loner, not developing many friends, and not having a happy, normal outlook on life”, stated his medical doctor in early 2006. He further stated, “his weight is below normal and he has poor nutrition due to the absence and nature of his teeth. I am concerned for Christopher’s health and fear the possibility of aspiration pneumonia and gastrointestinal disorders.” Christopher’s emotionally draining condition had left him with virtually no self esteem and wreaked havoc on his mind, body, and spirit.

While in braces, Christopher underwent oral surgery to have five dental implants placed in his mouth, designed to replace his missing teeth. Because of the cleft condition, one implant site failed four times requiring numerous bone grafts in an effort to try and save the implant.

To date, Christopher has received in excess of twenty different surgeries completely diminishing his family’s financial resources leaving them with no 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. Then, without his knowledge, Christopher’s Aunt Stacey wrote Dr. Scott Harden a letter and relayed Christopher’s story in a heartfelt letter filled with sympathy and love for this child who so desperately needed help. Stacey also included photographs of Christopher as an infant and as a teenager, which made an enormous impact on Dr. Harden and his team. Dr. Harden called Christopher and his family to schedule the first of many consultations with his office in Woodstock, Georgia.

On August 2, 2006, following a complete examination, Christopher and his parents listened as Dr. Harden and his team explained the different options and phases of treatment necessary to correct his condition. Dr. Harden also informed them that Christopher was going to be a recipient of his “Smiles In The Community” program and all of this would be at no charge to him or his family. After this consultation, Dr. Harden called a colleague and plastic surgeon, Dr. Brian Maloney, and asked him to join in on this case. He informed Dr. Maloney of the severity of the patient’s condition and explained that once the dental treatment was completed he would then need extensive plastic surgery to restore function and fullness to his upper lip. Dr. Maloney was on board and eagerly awaited the completion of Christopher’s dental treatment. Dr. Harden then called the oral surgeon who had placed Christopher’s implants. Dr. Harden explained several implants were not in a position that would benefit the restorative treatment plan and agreeably the oral surgeon removed those particular few, leaving the rest. This set up Christopher’s treatment plan for restorative success.

Christopher and his family remained patient over the next several weeks during numerous consultations with Dr. Harden and his team. Study models, diagnostic photographs and digital x-rays were collected to allow Dr. Harden to develop a custom treatment plan for Christopher. These tools allowed him to communicate with involved specialists, and to demonstrate the final result on the models before dental work was ever started. The complexity of Christopher’s dental care would require the culmination of all twenty years of Dr. Harden’s experience to accurately diagnose and implement predictable treatment. Crowns and bridges were designed, some on natural teeth and some on implants, to provide the blend of function and cosmetic smile Christopher always dreamed of.

In January of 2007, Chris had his first operative visit with Fountain View Family Dentistry, Cosmetic Center & Spa, Dr. Scott Harden’s office. Over the next six months, Dr. Harden worked seamlessly and diligently with his clinical team, oral surgeons, implant companies, the plastic surgeon, and closely involved Christopher and his family to ensure Christopher achieved the desired results he always wanted. With each visit, the wall that Christopher had built up to shield himself from the world, and their cruel stares and hurtful comments, slowly came down. The new Christopher began to introduce himself to the world and he looked into his future with confidence and optimism for the very first time in his 20 years of life. When Dr. Harden was asked what the best part of this case was, he stated “watching Christopher find the dynamic man inside himself and going from 0-100 on the self esteem scale”.

On June 26, 2007, Christopher successfully completed his treatment with Dr. Harden and continued his journey with the plastic surgeon. Christopher’s goals of restoring shape to his lip, removing the scars, and getting his upper lip to actually touch his bottom lip, were all accomplished by the plastic surgeon. Today, Christopher is a full time college student studying to be an engineer. The shy, withdrawn teenager is now a vibrant, confident, and socially outgoing young man who enjoys life and can’t stop smiling! Christopher’s happy beginning began long ago stemming from the compassion of a married couple’s desire to adopt, and the collective efforts of his Aunt Stacey, and doctors that care enough to make a difference. His life is forever changed thanks to Dr. Harden’s talent, skills, resources, and above all, his overwhelming generosity to give back to the community that which has given him so much.