A Mission at Home and Abroad

January 10, 2013

Dr. Janet Salomonson had a passion for helping children with clefts.

Dr. Janet Salomonson
Dr. Janet Salomonson
One of Dr. Janet Salomonson’s greatest joys was caring for children with cleft lips and palates. Determined to spare a child a lifetime of health and self-image problems due to this birth defect, she traveled the world to volunteer her surgical skills to make children whole.

Dr. Salomonson passed away after a brief illness in September, leaving the Saint John’s Health Center community in mourning. A gifted plastic surgeon, she was an integral part of the Health Center’s cleft palate team since 1982 and served as medical director for the past 15 years.

Dr. Salomonson traveled every year to places such as Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and the Philippines, notes Ann Masson, nurse coordinator, who has worked in the Cleft Palate Center for more than two dozen years.

“Her vision was to go with healthcare teams to repair children’s clefts and also to teach the local surgeons so that they could provide care to many more children,” says Masson.

Cleft lip and palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip and mouth do not form properly, resulting in openings or splits in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth (known as the palate) or both. According to the World Health Organization, cleft lip or palate affects one of every 500 to 700 babies born worldwide.

The cleft palate program at the Health Center was one of the first in the Los Angeles area when it began in the 1965. The multidisciplinary cleft palate team of professionals has treated thousands of patients, ranging from birth to adulthood.

Patients and their families meet all the disciplines of the team, which include clinical specialists; plastic surgeons; pediatricians; ear, nose and throat specialists; speech pathologists; audiologists; social workers; and orthodontists – all of whom are especially skilled in the care and management of children and adults with clefts. The cleft palate team believes it is not enough to just “repair the cleft” but rather take pride in creating an optimally aesthetic appearance, proper dental function, good speech and a well-adjusted person who can cope favorably with life’s demands.

Dr. Salomonson had a passion for her patients, said fellow plastic surgeon Michael McGuire, MD, at the memorial Mass held at the Sister Marie Madeleine Chapel. More than 250 physicians, patients, families and co-workers were in attendance. Said McGuire, “All physicians care for their patients, but Dr. Salomonson truly loved them.”

At a later gathering called “Remembering Dr. Janet Day,” Dr. Salomonson’s patients and family members were invited to share their special memories of her with the cleft palate team. Many brought photographs or wrote cards and notes of appreciation honoring Dr. Salomonson. One patient’s family wrote, “We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to know you and so honored that you cared for our child from the moment she was born. You were comforting, talented, brilliant and unwavering in your commitment to help not just one child, but children who needed you worldwide.”

Susan Wilson, Foundation liaison for the cleft palate team, shared, “Dr. Salomonson lived a lifetime caring for others, leaving smiles that will last many lifetimes wherever she went. We will never forget her.”