Alita Caolie - Cleft Warrior

Florence Caoile had given birth to five healthy children, so she figured her sixth baby would be a routine experience.

But four months before Alita’s birth in May of 2021, Florence and her husband, Sam, found out through an ultrasound screening the baby had a cleft lip and palate, in which the roof of her mouth and sides of her lip didn’t fuse together when she was developing in the womb. 

“I was devastated and filled with mom guilt,” said Florence. “I thought, ‘Did I do this to my baby? Was it a bad idea having a baby so late in my 30s? Will she be bullied?’”

The Caolies brought Alita to CHKD’s Cleft and Craniofacial Center, where a team treats 800 patients a year and performs 200 surgical procedures using the newest technology and decades of experience.

Craniofacial abnormalities are often complex and require therapies and surgeries from many medical disciplines. The CHKD craniofacial team consists of pediatric specialists in cranio-maxillofacial plastic surgery, neurosurgery, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), dentistry, psychology, general pediatrics, medical genetics, orthodontics, speech therapy, social work and nursing.

Dr. Jesus Inciong, director of the program, performed surgery last November to correct Alita’s cleft lip when she was 6 months old, and followed that with surgery to repair her palate in June.

“In the cleft community we call cleft kids cleft warriors because they go through so much,” Florence said. “She has already had two surgeries, more than some people will have in a lifetime, and she is expected to have more in the future. We’re lucky though, she has a very sunny disposition, always charming people she meets.”