Pure Gold: The Cleft Palate Center celebrates its golden anniversary

December 15, 2014
Rachel Frazier
Families and patients attending the "Remembering Dr. Janet Day."

Saint John’s Health Center kicked off a year-long celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Cleft Palate Center and has welcomed the third medical director in the center’s history. Mark M. Urata, MD, DDS, who is uniquely board certified in both plastic and maxillofacial surgery, assumed the medical director duties last year. He follows in the footsteps of Janet K. Salomonson, MD, who passed away in 2013, and the center’s founding medical director, Leslie M. Holve, MD, a pediatrician.

Dr. Urata has been a member of the staff of professionals at the Cleft Palate Center for five years. He was asked by Dr. Salomonson to take on the duties of medical director and says she helped him understand that the care of children with cleft palate was a lifelong commitment.

“That inspired me to seek out a career taking care of kids with clefts,” Dr. Urata says. “It was a huge honor for me to accept this responsibility from one of my mentors.”

The center houses a broad range of specialists who attend to all of a child’s cleft-related needs from infancy through adulthood. These include plastic surgeons, pediatricians, speech pathologists, audiologists, social workers, otolaryngologists, pedodontists, geneticists, pediatric nurses, pediatric dentists, prosthodontists and orthodontists. The goal of the center is to provide coordinated, comprehensive and long-term care in conjunction with the patient’s growth and development.

Cleft lip and palate are birth anomalies that occur when a baby’s lip and mouth do not form properly in utero, resulting in openings or splits in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth (known as the palate) or both. The anomaly occurs in about one of every 500 to 700 births worldwide.

“[Dr. Salomonson] inspired me to seek out a career taking care of kids with clefts, it was a huge honor for me to accept this responsibility from one of my mentors.” – Dr. Mark M. Urata

The idea of uniting a team of health professionals at Saint John’s to care for these children came from Dr. Holve, who was the hospital’s medical director of pediatrics, says Ann B. Masson, RN, nurse coordinator and case manager. Treatment continues to evolve and improve, with more surgeons using minimally invasive techniques.

The staff spends time educating families about the treatments and services the child may require. Over time, close relationships develop between the patients, family members and staff.

“It’s an initial shock for parents when they have a child with a cleft lip and/or palate. Giving parents information as soon as possible is very important. Parents need to know that the Cleft Palate Center team will help the family through the issues related to the cleft and that the vast majority of children grow up to be normal, healthy adults,” she says.

The Cleft Palate Center looks forward to continuing to serve the community for many more years, Dr. Urata adds. “We want to keep the heartbeat, the real spirit, of this program. This is a community-based program that provides personalized care at the highest level for children born with clefts.

… with thanks to the Native Sons of the Golden West.

Continuing a 45-year tradition of helping the Cleft Palate Center, the Native Sons of the Golden West presented a check at the group’s annual recognition lunch at Saint John’s held in August. The organization’s 2014 gift brought its total donations to Saint John’s to more than $1,500,000. These generous contributions have helped thousands of children born with clefts and related disorders to lead healthy, happy lives.

The annual recognition lunch began with a Mass of thanksgiving in the Saint John's Sister Marie Madeleine Chapel followed by a reception and update from the medical director, Mark M. Urata, MD, DDS, that included a 50th anniversary video tribute to the team and Native Sons.

In addition to funding new technology, the Native Sons’ contributions have helped underwrite a yearly fall educational conference attended by physicians, health care professionals and concerned parents.

Family education is a major component of the Saint John’s program. The group’s ongoing support “has allowed us to provide comprehensive, highly specialized care for these children,” says Dr. Urata. Funds provided by the Native Sons are often targeted to children who have minimal health insurance coverage or lack necessary specialized services, such as care from a speech pathologist, says Ann B. Masson, RN.

The Native Sons and Cleft Palate Center staff share a love and devotion of children, says Sister Maureen Craig, SCL. “The spirit that was started here many years ago by Dr. Holve and the Native Sons—that’s what keeps the program going.”

To learn more about supporting the Cleft Palate Center, please call Susan Wilson at 310-829-8593.