Cleft lip and palate are craniofacial disorders, which are abnormalities of the face or head caused by a birth defect, disease or trauma. A cleft lip is caused when the tissue in the lip does not completely join, a development which usually occurs between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. A cleft palate occurs when the tissue in the roof of the mouth does not join correctly. Babies with cleft lip and/or palate will have difficulties feeding and talking, and also are prone to ear infections, hearing loss and dental problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that each year 2,651 babies are born with a cleft palate, and 4,437 are born with a cleft lip.
Nineteen-year-old Rachael was born with a cleft lip and palate. She has undergone 16 surgeries since she was 3 months old to correct the birth defect and is awaiting further surgery to obtain permanent front-teeth implants.
"It's hard because your smile is one of the first things that people see," Rachael explains.
Although this condition has made her life difficult, Rachael has remained strong and has found inspiration from an unusual source: social media.
Rachael says that while undergoing so many surgeries has been painful, she tries to stay positive. "I would like to tell children that have a similar birth defect that it gets better," she says, adding that social media sites, such as Facebook, have helped her keep a positive outlook on life. She found particular inspiration from an Internet celebrity named Lentil.
"I love Lentil ... He posts pictures every day about what he's doing, where he's going. It makes me feel better that people are maybe seeing clefts a different way," Rachael says.
Lentil is an eight-month-old French bulldog puppy who was born with a cleft palate. His mother, Lindsay, tube fed him for four months before he was able to have corrective surgery. Lindsay says she originally started Lentil's Facebook page to share Lentil's unique story, but she had no idea it would go viral. After being contacted by Rachael's mom, Alison, Lindsay and Lentil became involved with CCA Kids, an organization that helps kids with craniofacial conditions. He has gone to hospitals to greet kids coming out of surgery and has drawn positive attention to children with craniofacial conditions.
Watch as The Doctors surprise Rachael with an on-stage visit from Lentil!
"I love this dog so much ... he's the cutest thing, and he's been through a lot already," Rachael exclaims. "He's such an inspiration to me."