Three-year-old has rare cleft palate condition

Toddler 1 of 50 in world with diagnosis

INDIANAPOLIS - Tessier cleft lip and palate, classifications three, four and five, is a truly one-in-a-million condition. For 3-year-old Christian Buchanan, however, it's just part of his everyday life.

In 2010, Lacey and Chris Buchanan learned that their soon-to-be-born baby boy was developing abnormally in the womb. Doctors warned the Buchanans that if their son survived, he would have facial abnormalities.

When he was born in February of 2011, Christian had a cleft in the center of his face that ran in a "V" from his mouth to his eyes which, as a result of the cleft, had not developed. Parts of his skull were exposed and his mouth was unable to close.

"We loved him immediately, but were heartbroken for our son," said Lacey.

A feeding tube was soon installed to allow Christian to receive nourishment. It would be the first of many surgeries.

After a year-and-a-half, the Buchanans came to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in Indianapolis, where doctors began constructing a new palate for Christian from scratch. A second surgery to complete the operation is scheduled for this summer.

Dr. Roberto Flores, director of craniofacial surgery at Riley, said he had to combine three types of cleft palate reconstructive surgeries for Christian.

"There is no recipe or formula for facial restoration,” said Flores. "Reconstruction is sculpture, architecture and mechanics of the flesh."

Earlier this month, Christian celebrated his third birthday. He got to taste a tiny bit of frosting, though he still eats exclusively through a feeding tube. His mother says he's an otherwise average toddler who likes to play piano and swim.

But, Lacey said, not everyone sees Christian as she and her husband do. Some have even called Christian a drain on society.

"One girl even told me I was a horrible person for not aborting Christian in utero," Lacey wrote in an emotional YouTube video. "I was miserable. But as Christian got older, he started laughing and playing. And when people would stare, Christian would start giggling. And they would giggle too."

Flores said the effects of facial deformities extend beyond the physical into the psychological.

"When our face is changed by nature, accident or cancer, our view of ourselves as a person—and the way society interacts with us—can be affected in powerful and lasting ways," he said.

Christian will require speech therapy and many more surgeries in the future, including the construction of protective eyelids. But, Flores said, he has a promising future.

"I know Christian is beautiful inside and out," Lacey said. "And he is the love of my life!"

Watch Lacey's emotional YouTube video about Christian below.
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