Augusta University Health’s Craniofacial Center, families celebrate first Share Your Smile Day

Drs. Jack Yu and Daniel Levy-Bercowski were all smiles after the first Share Your Smile Day on Saturday morning at Augusta University Health’s Craniofacial Center.

The inaugural event, which took place on the Terrace Green and in the Auditoria Center, was held in honor of National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month. Patients and their families participated in activities such as inflatables, a photo booth and face painting, as well as enjoyed snow cones, cotton candy, popcorn and refreshments, with close to 40 volunteers helping execute the event.

“I am very happy and very grateful,” said Yu, director of the Craniofacial Center and Hatcher Chair in Surgery, who has been at the Medical College of Georgia for 25 years. “We’re able to come together as a team and look at the spectrum, from the very young babies to all the way to 23 years old. It’s a very warm, heartfelt day. I’m sitting here soaking it up.”

Doctors and children posing
Members of Augusta University Health’s Craniofacial Center team pose with some of their patients during Saturday’s Share Your Smile Day.

Cleft and craniofacial conditions affect thousands in the United States each year. Some are born with congenital anomalies like cleft lip and palate, while others have more life-threatening craniofacial conditions. The Craniofacial Center, one of only two in Georgia, was approved again early this summer by the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association as teams the ACPA encourages patients and families to consider first for cleft and craniofacial health care needs.

“It was really nice to share this time with the parents and the kids, see my own kids playing with my patients,” Levy-Bercowski said. “It’s really special to be able to give back to the parents who are doing a lot to take care of these kids.”

More than 150 people took part in the inaugural event that Levy-Bercowski and Yu hope to build on in the coming years.

“Every first time is a learning experience. I want to start having the campaign a lot earlier so we can have a bigger event next year,” Levy-Bercowksi said.

Peace of mind

Brittany Murphey was 20 weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Stephen, found out during a routine checkup that their son Christian had a cleft lip and palate.

“I was a little taken aback because I wasn’t familiar with it,” said Brittany, who works at Augusta University’s Registrar’s Office. “I didn’t know anybody with cleft lip and palate, nobody in our family …

“We were a little shocked,” Brittany and Stephen said together.

They started researching information in the doctor’s office and found out AU’s Craniofacial team was nationally recognized and located at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. Her doctor immediately referred them to Yu.

“He was wonderful to talk to that first time. He spent probably an hour answering the list of questions I went in there with,” Brittany said. “From the time we started, he laid out a treatment plan and told us how it was going to go. He was accessible and was more than willing to answer our questions.”

Stephen said the team made the process easy because they were so caring and loving, and “you know you have your loved ones in the best care.”

“The peace of mind it gives you,” he added. “They are all so attentive. Everyone has their own specialty but they all work so well that you can tell the team has a great dynamic within itself.”

The Murpheys have seen Levy-Bercowski, who is also an associate professor at the Dental College of Georgia, every week since January and Christian had his first procedure in May.

Full of confidence

When David and Leslie Bullington brought their daughter Pearl home from China, she had a series of medical conditions that were more complicated than they were expecting, aside from her bilateral cleft lip and palate.

The Bullingtons had met with Yu before and had appointments scheduled when they brought Pearl home.

“Once she got here and he did an assessment, he was able to come up with a strategy and the plan, not just immediately, but for future procedures as well,” Leslie said. “I think her first lip surgery was within a month of coming home.”

Pearl, 9, had two more procedures within the next year and just last year had a surgery that “when we first talked about it was down the road.”

“It’s so funny; when we first brought her home, they said they were going to do some of these procedures when she’s a baby and then another one when she’s 8 and that seemed so far away,” Leslie said. “And then we got to it last year; it’s just funny how time works out.”

They said last year was hard because Pearl could anticipate that one.

Pearl said she was scared at first because she didn’t know what they were going to do.

“But after Dr. Yu told me, I was OK with it,” she said. “(Dr. Yu and Levy-Bercowski) mean a lot to me; to them being able to repair my voices and do the surgeries, it’s unexplainable how to say.”

“Everyone here made us feel confident in the care she was going to be receiving and the plan they had for her procedures and her care, not only Dr. Yu but the entire staff was comforting and encouraging to our whole family,” David said. “Dr. Levy’s team has been outstanding with orthodontial care. We’ve never once had any hesitation or reservations about the care she’s been getting here. It’s been outstanding.”

In good hands

Rebecca Reeves knew her daughter Haley had some cranial vault differences but she didn’t know the extent until she was born. Hours afterward, a team of doctors talked to her and explained Haley had Pfeiffer Syndrome Type 2 with a cloverleaf skull.

Reeves, who works for AU’s Emergency Communications Center, said it was overwhelming and the prognosis was bleak and disheartening.

“The stuff that had been written to that point was very hard to read because it dampens your hope and everything that you want for your child,” Reeves said. “But to be honest, I always felt like everything was going to be OK.”

Yu had come to Augusta six months before Haley, now 23, was born and has been with her every step of the way.

“Dr. Yu cares so much for these babies. He is so smart and tries to make sure that you have a clear picture of everything that’s going on,” Reeves said. “Even if you don’t want to hear it, he wants to make sure that if you have any questions, he is able to give you whatever answer you need because the questions can be plentiful.”

Reeves said the craniofacial team being in her hometown means everything.

“It’s more than comforting in knowing that if at any time I need anything to do with her care, I am moments away from the people that take care of her and take care of her well,” Reeves said.

Vickie and John Tector adopted Lia from China when she was 2 ½ years old and had an unrepaired bilateral cleft lip and palate. They said they met with Yu beforehand and let him know she had teeth protruding from her face. She has had six surgeries to correct it.

“He knew what he was getting himself in for,” Vickie said. “They’ve been awesome.

“We were never worried about them; it was always her struggle, her with dealing with it, but there was never any doubt or concern with them. We trust them completely.”

Never enough thanks

Levy-Bercowski said the event was a way to show the patients and their families how much those relationships mean to the physicians and the entire Craniofacial Center team.

“I think the parents and the patients really know how important they are to us,” he said. “It’s not just a patient; I put myself on their side. Our goal is to allow this child to have a normal life, play sports, get married and have a normal life.”

While Yu acknowledged he was near the end of his career, his hope was to pass along all he knows to the younger group of doctors so they can continue providing the kind of service everyone has come to expect. But until then, he wants all of the patients to know that the third Saturday in July will be a time of celebration in Augusta.

“It’s like this hand,” Yu said. “You can’t do what the hand does if all you have is the thumb. It’s a team effort and it’s a community. It’s a beautiful thing what we have here.”

The families also shared their appreciation for the work the Craniofacial team had done.

“I hope it shows these physicians just how much they mean to us, that all of the hard work is appreciated by us,” Reeves said. “I don’t think I will ever be able to say thank you enough to anyone that has taken care of her, especially to Dr. Yu.”

The Murpheys said they consider the team an extended part of the family.

“To see all the kids and to see what they’ve been through, it’s great for the University to recognize it and to get their name on the map and to show what great care they’ve been given,” Stephen said.

“You can’t put a price on it … all of the care he’s getting,” Brittany said. “We felt the team was our family but you can tell with all of the kids, they feel that same way.”

The Bullingtons said the team gave them so much reassurance, they have never worried about the treatment Pearl has received.

“Even though her situation was more complicated, it wasn’t overwhelming to us because it was never overwhelming to them. They knew exactly what to do,” Leslie said.

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Miguelangelo Hernandez
Written by
Miguelangelo Hernandez

Miguelangelo Hernandez is a senior communications and media coordinator at Augusta University. He covers College of Allied Health Sciences, College of Nursing, The Dental College of Georgia, College of Science and Mathematics and Augusta University Athletics. You can reach him at mighernandez@augusta.edu or (706) 993-6411.

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Miguelangelo Hernandez Written by Miguelangelo Hernandez

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