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NMSU Cleft Palate Center provides valuable service to the community

Many complicated processes happen in a mother's womb as a baby begins to form. Between four and six weeks of a pregnancy, the baby's lip forms. During weeks six through nine, the roof of the mouth, known as the palate, forms. In a small number of cases, however, something goes awry and the lip and/or palate are not properly formed, resulting in cleft lip and cleft palate, a congenital abnormality.

Three women stand in front of a sign celebrating 50 years of the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center.
Tenecia Trammel-Yeboah, Youkyung Bae and Marlene Salas-Provance are members of the New Mexico State University Cleft Palate Team. The team works together with other medical professionals in the Las Cruces area to provide comprehensive care to cleft palate patients. (Photo by Emily C. Kelley)
This is a sign on the exterior of the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center.
The New Mexico State University Cleft Palate Center is part of the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center, located in the Speech Building on the Las Cruces campus. (Photo by Emily C. Kelley)

Each year in the United States, approximately 2,651 babies are born with cleft lip and about 4,437 are born with a cleft palate, with or without a cleft lip, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prevalence is about 1 in 700 live births. New Mexico has a high incidence of cleft lip and palate.

Cleft lip can be seen in a sonogram after the 20th week of pregnancy. The cleft of the palate is harder to detect in utero.

"Early identification of cleft is key as it allows the family to arrange medical intervention at the time of the baby's birth," said Tenecia Trammel-Yeboah, college assistant professor for Special Education and Communication Disorders in the NMSU College of Education, and coordinator of the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center.

New Mexico State University has historically played an important role in care of patients with cleft lip and cleft palate in southern New Mexico, but now the university has its own cleft palate center.

"The Cleft Palate Center at NMSU is part of the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center and it is a place where families and children who have a history of cleft lip and palate can come for team services - medical team services - two times per year," said Marlene Salas-Provance, department head for Special Education and Communication Disorders. "They'll be seen for this service free of charge, by up to 15 professionals in the area of cleft lip and palate."

The NMSU Cleft Palate Center is housed within the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center in the basement of the Speech Building on the Las Cruces campus. On team meeting days, which happen twice per year, clients and families are guided by graduate students from provider to provider, for screenings of the child in the areas of plastic surgery, otolaryngology, pediatrics, nursing, dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery, speech-language pathology and audiology. The NMSU team also has a social worker from NM Children Medical Services and two nurses.

"It's a wonderful resource for the community because after the individual team members visit with the family, the team comes together and makes a total team recommendation for the family," said Salas-Provance.

The NMSU Cleft Palate team sends out an evaluation report to the families, to all the team members and to any other potential resources that were identified following the meeting to ensure that care is coordinated and thorough.

"For example, if we need to send a team report to the Las Cruces Public School's speech-language pathologist so they can have this information, or, if there's another healthcare provider that needs to be included, we will share the information with them," Salas-Provance said. "Our cleft palate leader, speech-language pathologist Adrienne Herrenbruck, sends out the reports and coordinates the post-team services that the clients may need."

Salas-Provance said that the cleft palate team care had formerly been run by the New Mexico Department of Health and NMSU was a site where the Children's Medical Services Cleft Palate team met. Providers travelled from around the state to Las Cruces to provide team care. She credits much of the success of the NMSU center to the dedicated team members from Las Cruces who have given up their own practices for two full days each year to participate in the team.

"NMSU has been doing team care for many years, probably since the early 1970s," Salas-Provance said. "This isn't a brand new service. What is new is that this is a coordinated service completely done by the faculty and staff of NMSU with the support of Las Cruces medical providers. Some of the major oral surgery and occasional plastic surgery may still occur in Albuquerque. Our team will continue follow-up services. We're more of a management team - managing the whole team care for the long term."

The NMSU team saw 17 clients at their November meeting. The NMSU Cleft Palate Center will see a varied group - from infants to young adults, coordinating their care throughout their growth and development. There is no cost for the evaluation on team day. If the family receives follow-up services after the team meeting, there may be a charge for these services. Families should check with their providers.

Youkyung Bae, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, is a speech scientist, and studies the acoustics of resonance disorders. She is part of the NMSU Cleft Palate Team.

"I provide some of the instrumental measures using state of the art equipment," Bae said. "This equipment provides quantitative, objective measures that can supplement the clinician's perceptual judgment. A clinician might say 'I hear very severe hypernasality in a certain patient,' a common problem for cleft clients. My severe level might be slightly different than someone else's severe level. So, if there are some numbers that can accompany those ratings, or perceptual judgments, I offer those quantitative measures and values, through the equipment, to supplement the clinician's perceptual judgment."

Salas-Provance, Trammel-Yeboah and Bae are only three members of the overall team, but integral to the successful care of cleft lip and cleft palate patients in southern New Mexico. The team approach to cleft care for children ensures that patients do not fall through the cracks or get lost in the system.

The next scheduled meeting of the NMSU Cleft Palate Team is Friday, March 22. The meeting will be held in the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center. If a family wants to be seen at the next team evaluation, all they need to do is call the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center at 575-646-3906 to make an appointment.