By Joey Smith
I was born at a local hospital here in Parkersburg, West Virginia with a severe bilateral cleft lip and palate.
The moment I was born, the doctor said, “He’s not breathing.”
I was immediately life-flighted to a larger hospital in Charleston where the doctors said it was the most severe case they had ever seen.
They said I was having such difficulty breathing on my own that I wouldn’t survive and I was given just weeks to live.
I was placed in an incubator and hooked up to machines to help me breathe, for what my mom says was forever. After finally being able to breathe on my own, they let my mom hold me for the first time.
The doctors told my parents I should be able to live a full life, but with some complications, like never being able to speak correctly and my voice would sound like it was coming from my nose due to the large gap in my palate.
My family didn’t fret. I immediately started speech therapy and before I turned four, we had a speech therapist come to the house.
After that, I went to my speech therapist everyday at my school, up until my freshman year in high school. That is until I got to high school when they said there was nothing more they could do because my speech was perfect.
Now let’s back track a little bit to my surgeries. I’ve had over seventy – 10 on my left ear, 12 on my right. I had a titanium ear drum placed in my right ear due to severe hearing loss (a common side effect to having cleft).
The rest of my surgeries have ranged from reconstructing my upper lip and my palate by doing multiple bone grafts, skin grafts, and skull grafts, to cosmetic surgeries where they broke both of my jaws, aligned them, and wired them shut so my bottom lip wouldn’t stick out past my upper lip as much.
They also did multiple skin grafts to make my upper lip as normal as possible, as well as took chunks of my ribs, skull, and both of my hips to rebuild my upper lip and nose.
After having all this done people say to me, “You’ve been through so much,” or something of that nature.
Looking back I wouldn’t change one single thing that I’ve been through – it is what has made me to be the person I am today.
I’ve preached and preached this saying constantly: there’s always someone out there that has it worse off than I do.
I’m writing this story now after 21 years of surgeries I’m finally done with. I’ve been cleared of all my surgeries and I’ve overcome things nobody deemed possible.
The one thing I want to reiterate and make sure everybody in the world knows is: you are not alone.
I am proud to be 1 in 700 people with cleft. I am me. I am cleft strong.
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