Mom’s Emotional Journey to Mend 2-Year-Old's Face

·Writer

Before Violet Pietrok was even born, mom Alica Taylor learned there was something wrong with her. “It’s not ever something that you want to hear,” the Oregon mother of five admits to The New York Times of discovering that her baby’s facial bones wouldn’t fully come together due to a rare congenital defect called Tessier Cleft. “The level of anxiety that’s there is pretty indescribable. It’s insurmountable. It about broke us.”

Photo: Courtesy of The New York Times

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Unlike her twin, Cora, Violet had no cartilage in her nose, a growth on her forehead, and brown eyes set so far apart that Taylor says the toddler’s vision was more like a bird’s than a person’s. When she went out with the family, people on the street stopped to gawk.

But when Pietrok was 19 months old, the family found hope through surgeons at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and the cutting-edge technology of 3-D prints. The family literally put their little girl’s head in the hands of Dr. John Meara, whom they entrusted to repair the cleft this past fall.

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Using 3-D prints to create a replica of Pietrok’s skull, Meara practiced the cuts he intended to make on a plastic model pre-operation. “3-D allows you to simulate surgery in a way that you haven’t been able to before,” the surgeon tells The New York Times. “In the past the first time you would have been making those cuts would have been on the patient.”

Photo: Courtesy of The New York Times

Seeing the model changed things for Taylor too. “We didn’t grasp the magnitude of it until we could see the amount of cuts that had to be done,” she confesses.

But the “trepidation,” that the mom describes eased up even before her daughter’s 10-plus hour operation was complete last October. When Meara came out of the operating room to update the family, “he was smiles from ear to ear.”

Photo: Courtesy of The New York Times

Pietrok will still need a follow-up operation to bring her eyes even closer together as well as add nasal cartilage, but it was with great relief that Taylor reveals the doctor declared that this first step “went perfect.”

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