words by: Elaine Tomski
God Created mia robertson with the spirit to overcome. Like most parents, hers embraced a list of hopes as they waited for their baby to arrive. That list did not include a birth defect. Yet, seven weeks before her birth, Jase and Missy Robertson learned that little Mia would be born with a cleft lip and possible cleft palate. An ultrasound revealed her smile was incomplete. One dashed hope became the opportunity for Mia and her family to share God’s love through beautiful smiles.
Mia Elaine Robertson was born on September 12, 2003, with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. Her lip was split under both nostrils, and the roof of her mouth (palate) was also open. When Mia was a mere seventeen days old, her parents traveled to the International Craniofacial Institute in Dallas, Texas. “They checked her from head to toe,” said Missy, “and fitted her with a palatal appliance in order to give her a fake roof to her mouth. This helped tremendously in the feeding process as it allowed her milk to travel down her throat, instead of out her nose.”
Jase and Missy did their best to give little Mia plenty of nourishment so she’d be ready for her first corrective lip surgery at three months old. The Robertsons prepared themselves to supply medical care to Mia following surgery. However, they were not ready to look at her stitched and terribly swollen little face. They wondered if surgery had been the right choice. Missy said, “In just a couple of days, the swelling diminished entirely, and we soon realized that this indeed was the best thing to do for our child.” At seven months, Mia received palate correction surgery and a natural roof to her mouth. Little Mia had endured two surgeries in less time than she’d spent in her mama’s womb.
Mia’s lip had grown by age five, but the scar tissue had not. So, Mia endured a second lip corrective surgery and reconstruction in her nasal passages. By the time Mia turned eleven, she had suffered through a lengthy process of stretching her upper jaw. Once the upper matched the lower jaw, Mia endured major bone-graft surgery. Her surgeon, Dr. David Genecov, removed bone from Mia’s left hip and placed it in the cleft of her upper jaw. Her recovery required a mouth splint and twelve weeks of no chewing. One might imagine Mia has a reason to frown from all her surgeries and suffering. In reality, she has grown to smile all the brighter.
(Left) Cole giving his new baby sister a kiss
(Right) Baby Mia dressed for her dedication
To understand the struggle associated with cleft lip and palate, let’s examine some facts. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Cleft lip and palate are openings or splits in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth (palate), or both. Cleft lip and cleft palate result when facial structures that are developing in an unborn baby don’t close completely.” The lip and palate form in the second and third months of pregnancy. In the United States alone, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 2,518 babies are born each year with a cleft lip and palate. About 1,402 babies are born with only a cleft lip and 2,333 with only a cleft palate. Cleft lip and palate are among the most common birth defects.
Researchers believe most cases of cleft lip and cleft palate stem from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Several risk factors may increase the likelihood of a baby developing cleft lip/palate.
• Parents with a family history of cleft lip/palate carry a higher risk of a cleft for their babies.
• Research shows women who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or take certain medications may increase the likelihood of a cleft lip/palate in their children.
• Some evidence indicates a higher risk for children of women diagnosed with diabetes before pregnancy.
• Being obese during pregnancy may also increase the risk of cleft lip/palate.
Infants born with a cleft lip/palate face challenges in proportion to the severity of the opening. The most urgent concern following birth is the ability to feed. While most babies with a cleft lip can breastfeed, a cleft palate can make sucking difficult. Children with clefts are at a greater risk for ear infections and hearing loss. Tooth development may also be affected if the upper gum is open. Because the roof of the mouth helps us form sound, a cleft palate can delay normal speech development, and words may sound nasal. Finally, differences in appearance and the need for extensive medical care may create social, emotional, and behavioral problems in children with clefts.
Because problems come naturally with a cleft lip/palate, the Robertson family appreciates the support they receive from medical professionals, family, long-time friends, and the new friends they discover on the journey. Missy stated, “Those with a cleft often have to work harder to live their lives the way they want to, but this does not need to be a bad thing. Overcoming trials is what shapes our identities and makes us stronger.” After Mia joined the family, Missy said, “We had to figure out how to pay the bills.” Although they were a middle-class family with health insurance, Jase and Missy still carried debt for years because of Mia’s extensive medical needs and surgeries. “We had a huge support system with our family,” said Missy. “But a lot of people don’t have that.”
(Left) Brave Mia after her first surgery
(Right) Mia worked hard to put in the necessary hours wearing her headgear.
Maybe you’ve heard of Jase and Missy’s family through the television show Duck Dynasty. A look into the real lives of the Robertson family received ten million views per episode. Duck Dynasty chronicles the Robertson family and their duck call business. A fun-loving crew includes Mom and Dad, Phil and Miss Kay, and their sons, Alan, Jase, Willie, and Jep. Viewers also get to know the boys’ wives and children. Uncle Si, Phil’s brother, is the show’s unforgettable storyteller. Robertson men are known for their beards and Christian views. The filming of Duck Dynasty ended in 2017, but a new show, Duck Family Treasure, began streaming this year in June on Fox Nation Online. Duck Family Treasure features Jase and Jep Robertson seeking treasure with the help of metal detectors, Uncle Si, and expert treasure hunter, Murray Crowe. Better than gold, the precious gems they find along the way include laughter, faith, and family.
As God gives the Robertson family opportunity and wealth, they respond by stewarding their resources to be generous in return. Jase and Missy founded the Mia Moo Fund, an arm of the Worldwide Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, in 2014. Their website explains, “The Mia Moo Fund is dedicated to raising awareness and funds towards the treatment of cleft lip and palate. We invite everyone countrywide to participate with us as we strive to support one another, lend a helping hand, and bring a smile to each and every child.” Jase and Missy’s goal is to provide a support system for other families on the cleft journey. They want families with cleft palate or lip to know they are not alone…
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Find resources and more information on cleft lip and palate at:
www.worldcf.org (World Craniofacial Foundation)
(Details on the team who helped Mia undergo surgery in early 2014 can be found on this website.)
Mia Moo Fund
117 Kings Lane, West Monroe, LA 71292
Elaine Tomski is the author of Pregnant and Praying, a gift book for expectant mothers. She and her husband call Ohio’s Amish Country home.