Carilion Children’s partners with Smile Train to expand speech therapy for cleft lip patients

Published: Jul. 15, 2023 at 6:21 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Carilion Children’s is working to expand speech therapy for cleft palate patients.

Smile Train is the world’s largest nonprofit surgery provider for children with cleft lips and palates

Nearly 40 speech pathologists are now able to provide specialized care across SWVA.

“You think of a cleft lip and you just sew it closed, and that’s not quite it,” says Christopher Pierce, Chair of Pediatrics at Carilion Children’s Tanglewood Hospital.

“The pediatric speech pathologists are getting an education on how to evaluate children who have a cleft lip or cleft palate,” adds Carilion Children’s Senior Director, Amy Kageals.

Most patients receive regular speech therapy treatment through the public school system.

Julia Van Nutt works as a speech-language pathologist in schools with students who have a cleft palate.

“I wanted to be able to work on and learn some different sounds that we can start working on for treatment and just how to help her communicate better,” she said.

Typically, school providers don’t work as frequently with cleft patients, nor do they have cleft-specific training.

“I can use some of the things that we learned yesterday and get some feedback from the people who taught us all the different things, what I should work on, how I should do some different things. It was really good to kind of have them here to help me through that, with a student that I am working with,” explained Van Nutt.

Leaders say Carilion’s training will ultimately increase access to cleft care for rural patients.

“Just being able to take it back to my county and talk to the different speech therapists there, so if there’s any speech therapist in the county that has a student who has the cleft palate or cleft lip, they can come to me for a resource,” stated Van Nutt.

Carilion Clinic Cleft serves roughly 300 patients per year in Roanoke and surrounding rural areas.