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Meet the Team at Our Cleft and Craniofacial Center

An Approved Team of the American Cleft Palate Craniofacial Association

Orofacial clefts, including cleft lips and cleft palates, are among the most common congenital malformations. According to the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association (ACPA), approximately 7,000 babies in the U.S. are born with a cleft lip and/or palate every year. Cleft lip and cleft palate occur when a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy. At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston, families have access to world-class care at the Cleft and Craniofacial Center, a collaboration with MassGeneral Hospital for Children. The staff members of the Cleft and Craniofacial Center are members of an ACPA Approved Team.

“We offer top-notch multidisciplinary and longitudinal care to patients from prenatal to adult – regionally and internationally,” said Eric C. Liao, M.D., Ph.D., the co-director of the Cleft and Craniofacial Center at the Boston Shriners Hospital. “Shriners as a system of hospitals is the largest entity in the world taking care of children with clefts.”

Focus on family-centered care

Cleft care occurs over multiple stages of a patient’s life and starts before they are even born, so the cleft and craniofacial team works diligently to establish strong bonds with families, beginning with their first prenatal consult.

“The family is at the center of everything we do here,” Dr. Liao shared. “I meet the families during a time when they are feeling really confused and overwhelmed. I explain to them what a cleft diagnosis means, and my message is always positive and encouraging. I want families to leave our initial consult feeling like they have a team behind them and that everything is going to be okay.”

An interdisciplinary team

Due to the complexity of cleft care, specialists from numerous other health disciplines are also involved in these cases. At the Cleft and Craniofacial Center, families meet their ACPA Approved Team, which includes their child’s plastic surgeon, orthodontist, psychiatrist, nurse case manager, speech therapist and nutritionist – all during the initial consult. See all members of our medical team.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Liao makes this multidisciplinary approach possible. He has set up a virtual clinic that includes separate exam rooms for each specialist. “It’s scary for a young person to come online and have eight adults looking at him at once,” he said. “We designed a workflow where they go from virtual room to virtual room without losing connection so they can still see their entire care team.”

Driving innovation

The Boston Shriners Hospital staff doesn’t just do clinical care; the hospital also boasts a robust, world-class research network that allows providers like Dr. Liao to treat extremely rare conditions and study them in real time. He spoke of caring for a patient with ahrinia, of which there are only 60 to 100 cases in reported literature. This condition occurs when a baby has two small indentations, but not holes, instead of a nose. 

“We are one of the few medical centers where we can seamlessly go from caring for the patient and collecting cells to analyzing them in the lab,” Dr. Liao said. “And because we treat rare conditions like ahrinia, the world’s specialists are also here. They are part of our team.”

Cleft team

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