Jocelyn Esparza knows what it’s like to be teased. Even after multiple surgeries at a Los Angeles hospital to correct the complex cleft lip and palate she was born with, people poked fun at her still asymmetrical nose, difficult speech and malformed lip.
“Her palate reopened and they tried to close it again,” recalled Jocelyn’s mother, Jasmin Esparza. “One side of her nose was completely blocked. She had difficulty breathing. It was very hard to see her go through all that.”
Jocelyn and her family moved from Long Beach to Tulare but they traveled to Southern California for continued treatment. Upon seeing Jocelyn’s condition, a speech therapist referred the Esparzas to Dr. Peter Witt, a plastic surgeon at Children’s Hospital Central California whom she knew personally.
“Jocelyn had multiple operations at another facility over a six-year period that, unfortunately, resulted in significant impairment,” said Dr. Witt, an expert in cleft palate treatment and other plastic surgery techniques. “She presented to me with crippling deformity. No child should have to suffer like this.”
Jocelyn’s life soon changed – for the better.
When Jocelyn was 8 years old, Dr. Witt performed three secondary surgeries within a year to improve her breathing, appearance and speech. First, he reconstructed her lip and crooked nose, using an ear cartilage graft for the latter. Second, he repaired the hole in her palate and removed her tonsils, which were obstructing her airway. Third, Dr. Witt did a procedure to tighten her velopharyngeal port – a seal between the nasopharynx and the oral cavity – to improve the clarity of her speech.
“Dr. Witt explained everything very well and answered our questions regarding what was going to happen with Jocelyn before, during and after the procedures,” said Jasmin.
Now 10 years old, Jocelyn radiates a poised confidence. “I don’t get teased anymore,” she said with a smile, her arm around her younger sister, Jacquelyn. “They made my nose pretty.”
Dr. Witt emphasized that such positive results are achieved only through collaboration with other providers, including ear, nose and throat specialists, speech pathologists, and orthodontists.
“A tertiary, dedicated pediatric facility is where cases like this should be managed – at a facility with a dedicated multidisciplinary cleft team,” said Dr. Witt, whose practice sees 1,600 craniofacial-related visits a year. “We have three full-time plastic surgeons at Children’s. Our cleft team is as good as any in the country.”
Cleft lips or palates, a congenital deformity, occur about one in every 600 to 800 births. Over the next couple years, Jocelyn will continue speech therapy, get braces and undergo gum surgery to further improve her verbal communication and appearance.
Entering the fourth grade this fall, she already knows she would like to be an elementary school teacher some day. “I want to help other little kids,” she said.
Jasmin and her husband, Fermin, a floor installer, are very thankful for the care their daughter received.
“Before Children’s Hospital, Jocelyn had several surgeries but we didn’t see any progress,” she said. “At Children’s, we see progress.”