Kennedee Murphy was born with a birth defect that made it difficult to breathe and swallow. Doctors at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island diagnosed the newborn, born three weeks premature, with Pierre Robin sequence, a congenital defect that caused the tongue in her small jaw to obstruct her airway and cause choking. Kennedee was also born with a cleft palate.
To allow her tongue to move forward enough so that it no longer hindered Kennedee’s ability to breathe and eat, a two-stage procedure called mandibular distraction was used to surgically fracture and slowly elongate the jaw. During the first surgery, the team placed a “distraction device” in the baby’s jaw, and then slowly turned the device over the following weeks, guiding the bone so that it grew in a planned way. Two months later, the device was removed.
“We were very lucky,” says Kennedee’s mom, Kimberlee, who worried whether her firstborn would be able to bounce back. “The results were amazing,” she says, reporting that Kennedee soon began eating well and gaining weight.
“We were very lucky. The results were amazing.”
—Kimberlee Murphy, Kennedee’s Mom
Kennedee will require a second surgery early next year to repair her cleft palate. The procedure, called palatoplasty, closes the opening between the nose and mouth to prevent speech problems during development.
Zahrah Taufique, MD, head of the Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology in the Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, performed the life-changing procedure. Dr. Taufique often works in tandem with James G. Choi, MD, DMD, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine. The two physicians were instrumental in launching the hospital’s new cleft lip and cleft palate program.
“I am grateful to have found someone else who wanted to pull this team together. It was a passion project for both of us,” says Dr. Taufique.
Out of every 1,000 children in the United States, 1 is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, birth defects that cause splits or separations in the underlying structure of the upper lip, palate, and jawbone. The conditions often require multiple surgeries and postoperative treatments such as speech therapy and dental work.
The team, which currently treats about one new cleft palate and lip case a month, expects that number to grow, given their new designation as a program.
“This is a major step forward in providing great care for a vulnerable population,” says Dr. Choi, “and it aligns with the hospital’s mission of raising the quality and breadth of services available to Long Island patients.”