During routine pregnancy exams, Arati Patel and her husband marveled at the ultrasound images of their growing child, dreaming of the future. The tests indicated the couple would welcome a healthy boy, whom they named Sahil, in June 2003. But when Arati went into labor five weeks early, excitement transformed into uncertainty.
Sahil arrived prematurely with numerous complications. Due to the severity of his condition, doctors rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center before Arati could process the situation. She said she will always remember the first conversation following her delivery with experts from the Texas Cleft-Craniofacial Team at UT Physicians.
“They told us that Sahil was born with a severe cleft lip and cleft palate, something that I didn’t know existed.” she said. “I had no idea where to begin, but they explained everything and reassured us that even though Sahil may look different, there’s no reason he cannot lead a happy and healthy life.”
Sahil spent the majority of his first year of life in the hospital under the care of the Texas Cleft-Craniofacial Team.
“The team conducted multiple procedures to repair Sahil’s cleft lip and palate and give him a healthy start to life,” said Arati. “They went above and beyond to ensure Sahil received the best possible care.”
Since birth, Sahil, who turned 18 in May 2021, has returned to the Texas Cleft-Craniofacial Team at least once a year so the team can monitor his progress and provide any additional treatments—from ear tubes to help drain fluid and improve hearing, to orthodontic care to maintain his oral health, to speech therapy to improve his speaking.
A bright future ahead
In June 2021, Phuong Nguyen, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Chief of Pediatric Plastic Surgery at UT Physicians, performed a surgery to help correct the irregularities of Sahil’s jaw bones and realign his jaws and teeth.
“Sahil is an incredibly positive young man, and I feel privileged to lead his cleft care,” said Nguyen. “The procedure we did will help him continue to enjoy life and share his positivity with others, whether through smiling, talking, or sharing a meal with loved ones.”
With Nguyen’s help, Sahil is making the most of his junior year of high school, continuing to enjoy the things he loves like boy scouts, and stepping out to try new things like playing the drums.
“Dr. Nguyen genuinely loves what he does,” said Arati. "It shows in the way he treats Sahil and our family, and I know he will always do what is best for us."
As Sahil begins to consider his future, Arati can’t wait to see where life takes him.
“He is at a point where he gets to decide what he wants to do in life, and I’m so excited to see what direction he goes,” said Arati. “Sahil’s cleft care has been a lifelong journey, and I’m grateful for everything the Texas Cleft-Craniofacial Team has done to help us reach this point.”
Help lead the way for extraordinary cleft care
About one in 700 babies are born with cleft lip and/or palate, making it one of the most common birth defects. Like Sahil, children and adults with orofacial clefts often need other types of treatments and services, such as special dental care and speech therapy in addition to surgery, which can be costly and difficult to coordinate.
The Texas Cleft-Craniofacial Team combines the expertise of health care professionals from more than a dozen specialties to provide comprehensive care for orofacial clefts from infancy through adulthood. The team’s pediatric plastic surgeons also volunteer their skills in reconstructive surgery to serve children in underserved communities around the world, helping to remove the barriers to safe, affordable surgical care.
Philanthropy can help the Texas Cleft-Craniofacial Team continue to create brighter futures for children and adults like Sahil. By making a gift, you can make exceptional, lifelong cleft care like Sahil’s more accessible to families in our communities and beyond. Your generosity will assist families with expenses related to care; expand humanitarian programs that provide quality reconstructive surgery to underprivileged regions; and support the advancement of safer, more effective procedures.
Visit go.uth.edu/TexasCleft to make a gift to the Texas Cleft-Craniofacial Team to help create exceptional outcomes for children and adults born with orofacial clefts and craniofacial deformities.