Fort Worth, TX,
15:39 PM

Cook Children's Cleft Team Receives Approval from the American Cleft Palate Craniofacial Association

This recognition reflects the team's tireless efforts toward improving the patient experience.

By Charlotte Settle

ACPA Approval 

The Cook Children’s Cleft, Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery Department has been approved by the American Cleft Palate Craniofacial Association (ACPA), meeting and exceeding the highest standard of care for patients with cleft lip and palate differences.Cleft Palate Team Members at the 2023 ACPA Conference

The Cleft team specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery for children with face, head, and neck conditions with a care model that focuses on collaboration between specialties.

“Years in the making, the ACPA approval affirms that we have developed a program that is at an elite level,” said Eric Hubli, M.D., Surgeon-in-Chief for Craniofacial and Cleft Surgery. “The families in our seven-county region can take comfort in knowing there is world-class cleft care right down the road. In my mind, this department can and will become a destination of excellence that will draw patients from every state and around the world.”

Han Zhuang Beh, M.D., plastic surgeon, joined Cook Children’s a little over two years ago and began working on the ACPA approval, which shows that the Cleft Team is providing the best care possible for our patients.

“This approval means we are providing evidence-based care that improves patient outcomes over time,” said Cook Children’s Director of Practice Operations, Martin Reidy.

Compassionate, Collaborative Care 

“One appointment can take the entire day, but we try to coordinate as best as we can among genetics, cardiology, ENT, and any other specialists the patient needs to see,” said team coordinator and nurse, Leah Hekele, RN.

“By coordinating appointments so the patients see multiple specialists on the same day, we’re helping decrease the amount of time that the child misses school or the parents miss work,” said plastic surgeon, Eileen Curry, M.D. “It limits the number of times they have to physically come to the hospital.”

Cook Children’s multidisciplinary teams collaborate to create the best path forward for their patients, like six-month-old twins, Cooper and Bennett Wolan. Cooper and Bennett’s mother, Renee Wolan, was pregnant with the boys when they were diagnosed with cleft lip and palate differences. When Wolan first met with Dr. Beh at six months gestation, she had a lot of questions and was immediately impressed by his undivided attention and reassurance.

“He made sure I knew this is a partnership, where we work together and my input as their mother matters,” she said.

After Cooper and Bennett were born, Dr. Beh and a speech therapist met with Wolan regularly to help her master lip taping and feeding techniques in preparation for their initial lip surgery. When the twins had their surgery at three months old, everything went as smoothly as possible.

“The results were really great,” Wolan said. “Everybody who sees them can't even believe the before and after. It's mind-blowing.”

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Not only was Wolan impressed with Dr. Beh’s surgical expertise, but also his warm, friendly, and supportive demeanor throughout the process. “When he showed us the results, he told us, ‘This is your hard work. The lip taping got us here,’” Wolan said. “It was really nice to know that he recognized the work we put in, too.”

Soon, Wolan will have another multidisciplinary appointment with Dr.  Beh, the speech therapist, and an ear, nose, and throat doctor to prepare for the twins’ palate repair surgery later this year. Beyond that, the twins will continue to have both mandatory and as-needed procedures well into young adulthood. 

“A lot of people don’t realize that when you have cleft lip and palate, it's 20 years of surgeries and appointments,” Wolan said.

“I think it should provide comfort to families that we're continuing to get educated on cleft care,” Dr. Curry said. “Our team went to the ACPA Conference last year and we're planning on going again this year. Medicine is constantly evolving and we are committed to ongoing learning and personal development so that our patients will always receive the best, most up-to-date care.”

The ACPA offers approvals for both Cleft Palate Teams (CPT) and Craniofacial Teams (CFT). Now that Cook Children’s has secured its CPT approval, Dr. Beh is determined to get the CFT approval, as well. “We’ve started to perform facial reanimation surgery and are looking to hire uniquely talented experts who will allow us to offer specialized care that we haven't previously been able to provide,” Dr. Beh said. 

As the team continues to grow, Hekele and fellow clinical coordinator and nurse, Diana Ortiz, RN hope to implement more ways to celebrate and support families of children with cleft lip and palate differences. 

“We’d love to have a Cleft Celebration Day where we honor all the new babies who have completed their first-stage surgeries,” Hekele said.

“I also think it would be great for families to have a space to connect with other people who have been through similar journeys,” said Ortiz, who has plans to start a family support group for the clinic.

A Stand-Out Department  

“The ACPA approval shows that on a national level, we are providing the best care possible for our patients with cleft palate differences comparable to the major hospitals throughout the country,” Dr. Beh said. “Families who are aware of this distinction will be looking for and asking about ACPA-approved teams.”

Beyond offering an exceptional multidisciplinary clinic, the Cleft, Craniofacial, and Plastic Surgery Team works together seamlessly to uplift one another and make families feel at home.

Ortiz sings the praises of Dr. Hubli, Dr.  Beh, Dr. Curry, and everyone in the department who has worked hard to achieve this milestone.

“I think all of us working together is what makes it so special because we all really care about these patients and these families,” she said.

“As long as we continue to have the support and enthusiasm of Cook Children’s, I think we have the capabilities to become leaders not only in cleft care, but also in plastic surgery as a whole in the pediatric population,” Dr. Beh said.

About the Cook Children's Cleft, Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery Team

As the primary children’s hospital of Fort Worth, Cook Children’s has had a multidisciplinary Cleft Palate Team for many years, initially relying on the talents of private practice surgeons who coordinated with local specialists to deliver care. In 2008, Cook Children’s brought cleft care in-house, added craniofacial surgery to its care offerings, and recruited Eric Hubli, M.D. as Medical Director of the Pediatric Cleft, Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery department. Over the next 14 years, Dr. Hubli introduced new skills and techniques to the hospital, advanced the capabilities of the Speech Pathology Department, and created links to other Cook Children’s specialists in neurosurgery, genetics, ENT, oral surgery, NICU, and PICU. Through his model, the Craniofacial and Cleft Coordinator served as the central point of referrals and information among these specialists. These steps laid the groundwork for the recruitment of distinguished plastic surgeons, Han Beh, M.D. and Eileen Curry, M.D., who have continued to help the team achieve national recognition.

Learn more about the department here.