One thing you cannot miss when you meet twelve year old Tyler Olsen is his big smile-with a mouth full of braces. Unlike most kids with braces, Tyler is grateful for them and proudly wears colored bands on them to attract more attention. That's because Tyler's smile has a story behind it.
Tyler was born at 33 weeks after his mother, Cindy, began to experience Preeclampsia, or high blood pressure. Tyler's heart rate was also too high. He was delivered by cesarean section and taken immediately to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Geisinger Janet Weis Children's Hospital in Danville.
Tyler was born with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate and also with severe acid reflux. His acid reflux was so bad that it caused him to have sleep apnea-a condition where he would stop breathing during sleep. After seven weeks in the NICU, he was sent home only to return five days later because of continuing episodes of sleep apnea.
At four months of age he underwent a major abdominal surgery called a Nissen-Fundaplication at Geisinger Janet Weis Children's Hospital. This surgery is done to relieve severe acid reflux by wrapping the upper stomach around the lower esophagus. The surgery was successful in solving his severe reflux and Tyler was finally able to sleep well.
When he was six months old, Tyler began a series of plastic surgeries to repair his cleft lip and cleft palate. This is where he began his long-standing relationship with the Cleft Palate Team at Geisinger. Geisinger has one of the few accredited Cleft Palate teams in the entire state. The team is made up of a speech therapist, orthodontist, ENT specialists, pediatric dentists, oral surgeons, a social worker, a child psychologist and several plastic surgeons. The team treats children who have multiple reconstructive needs in one clinic so they don't have to make multiple appointments with each doctor on the team. They also pair surgeries as much as possible to reduce the number of times a child will need to go into the operating room.
Joseph DeSantis, MD, Director of Pediatric Plastic Surgery and Director of the Cleft Palate Program, performed the repairs on Tyler's top lip, palate, and nose. Each surgery took about three hours to complete. According to Dr. Desantis, "The normal child that you see in Tyler today is the result of a team of people. That is the miraculous part of his story. He was so frail when he was born and in the NICU and he is such a strong young man now".
Perhaps Tyler's strength showed the most when, at the age of nine, he endured a three hour surgery to repair the gap in his upper gum line. Dr. Desantis and the oral surgeons performed the repair by extracting marrow from Tyler's hip bone and placing it into the gap to fill in the upper gum line and allow his adult teeth, which were waiting to erupt, to grow into that area. Once his adult teeth came in, Tyler began wearing braces and has needed years of adjustments and check-ups by an Orthodontist.
Funding through Children's Miracle Network helps to defray some of the cost of orthodontic services for children with cleft palate repairs. Part of the repair process calls for realigning the child's mouth with braces. Most insurance companies will not cover this cost because they consider the braces cosmetics. Kids like Tyler are grateful that this part of the Cleft Palate program is covered by Children's Miracle Network funds because it has improved his physical appearance immensely, and helped with his speech and his self-esteem.
Robert Seebold, DDS, Pediatric Orthodontist and team member described working with Tyler: "Tyler has become almost like part of the family because I have been treating him since he was a little boy. I have enjoyed seeing the drastic changes that have taken place with this part of his care and I can see that he and his parents appreciate this work so much".
"Tyler has endured so much and never complained through all of his nine surgeries and especially through the extensive orthodontic work that had to be done over many years now and many visits", said his mother, Cindy.
Tyler's parents have been the most critical members of the team who has cared for him throughout his life. Their love and support have allowed him to be a normal teenager and are the reason that today Tyler is involved in basketball, karate, roller skating, bike riding, playing the drums in the middle school band, playing video games, running 5K races, and flirting with girls.
Lela Brink, MD, Pediatrician at Geisinger-Gray's Woods, has been Tyler's physician since birth and had this to say about the Olsen family: "The Olsen family is an amazing combination of people. Each of them supports the other. The three together are much stronger than any one of them apart. Tyler reflects what we call a miracle child; he had a whole host of obstacles that he overcame with the help of the Geisinger family. He is an amazing young man".