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Aubrey's Cleft Repair

September 26, 2016

Since before she was born, the odds have been stacked against Aubrey Staggs. But this energetic toddler has a penchant for defying them.

Born with a series of anomalies, including a Tessier facial cleft affecting her lip, nose and eye socket, Aubrey required immediate intervention after birth.


“It’s one of the most challenging clefts our team has ever repaired,” said Larry Hartzell, MD, director of the cleft lip and palate program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “We knew this would be a complex case, but Aubrey has thrived with every surgery.”

Her initial procedure involved three large, multidisciplinary teams, including plastics and neurosurgery, which removed a large encephalocele from Aubrey’s brain.

“With so many complications, my OB had told me that she wouldn’t likely live through my pregnancy,” said Aubrey’s mother, Sienna. “But she is doing wonderfully now because she’s a fighter and our teams at Arkansas Children’s were determined to help her.”

Aubrey’s care at Arkansas Children’s is coordinated through the Medical Home Clinic, where Dr. Carrie Brown visits with the family on a regular basis. Aubrey is treated through many ACH specialty services, including Cardiology, Hand Clinic, Ophthalmology, Pulmonary, Neurology, and Orthopedics.

“The team approach has made all the difference in the world for our family,” Sienna said. “They take such good care of us, and understand that there is no one else like Aubrey in the world.”

Dr. Hartzell credits Aubrey’s parents with ensuring her success.

“They work hard for Aubrey, and it’s inspiring,” Hartzell said. “The family is a core component of her care team.”

Aubrey continues to see Dr. Hartzell and other specialists like Dr. Michael Golinko, one of her plastic surgeons on the operative team.

He notes that facial clefts such as Aubrey’s are rarely encountered by surgeons in North America, as only one in 50,000 babies is born with Tessier clefts. But the multidisciplinary team at Arkansas Children’s has experience with them, completing repairs on another child this year, as well.

The interdisciplinary approach that Dr. Hartzell and Dr. Golinko devised with Arkansas Children’s Oculoplastic Surgeon Dr. John Pemberton broke Aubrey’s complex needs into simpler components, creating a schedule of surgeries over a few months.

“Once we operated, the rest was up to Aubrey, and she has surprised us all with how well she recovered after each operation,” Dr. Golinko said. “I recently saw Aubrey for her one-year follow-up, and she is able to understand basic sign language and eating so well they actually had to reduce her calories! She is truly a miracle and pleasure to care for.”

This summer, Aubrey had her eighth surgery, repairing her palate. Within a few days, she was back at home, playing peek-a-boo with her parents and showing off her new signing abilities.

When her father Brad leaves for work each day, Aubrey touches her hand to her forehead, letting Sienna know she’s ready to see Daddy again soon. She also recently began putting weight on her legs and rolling from her belly to her back.

And Aubrey loved splashing water at Sienna when she took her first swim this summer!

“I really push for the interventions I think she needs, and the Arkansas Children’s team works with me on those,” Sienna said. “We never knew if she’d be hitting these milestones, but their approach and passion for helping her is making it happen!”

Learn more about the Arkansas Children's Cleft Clinic.

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