Many children suffer from deformities of the face and skull. These deformities are tricky to fix because of the impingement on skin, bone, brain and eyes. The aesthetic outcome of the surgery must also be considered. The child’s face will grow and the repair should be as minimally disfiguring as possible. Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has a craniofacial and plastic surgery team that is able to perform these reconstructions efficiently and effectively.
The clinic has specialists from craniofacial surgery, neurosurgery, otolaryngology, orthordontics, genetics, psychiatry, audiology, speech-language therapy, ophthalmology, nursing and social work. This wide range of specialists allows for the children to see each doctor that they may need all in the same day. It makes the process easier on the families because it is not necessary for them to travel to multiple specialists separately. After this procedure they then create a coordinated care plan to ensure that all treatments are delivered at the correct times.
Packard Children’s research has made advances in the stretching of bone. A few deformities are results of disfigured bone and creating a way to fix this was completely necessary. The surgeon cut the bone in two and secure the two pieces close together, causing the pieces to grow trying to close the gap. As the gap gets smaller the surgeons spread the bone again, repeating this process until it is the right size. This process is called bone distraction and is used in undersized jaw bones, facial asymmetry, and crainiosynostosis.
Soft tissue defects of the face, head and neck are also treated at Packard Children’s. They are able to restore smiles of children who lack facial nerve and muscle function. They actually take pieces of tissue from other parts of the body and then transplant them in the affected area. After meticulously connecting blood vessels and nerves the transplants are able to grow naturally. Another soft flesh treatment that they offer is for hemangiomas. Hemangiomas is a blood vessel tumor which causes purple blotches on the skin. These tumors can leave a scar if not operated on.
The Clinic would like to be able to perform these reconstructive procedures without leaving any scar at all. They are researching fetal dot cells to accomplish this. Dr. H. Peter Lorenz is the director of craniofacial surgery and service chief for plastic surgery at Packard Children’s. He told Stanford School of Medicine that,
“Dot cells are like soldiers for stem cells.” Research showed that the cells move to a wound and help to make healthy new skin. He continued, “We could inject the cells into patients with skin problems to enable scarless skin repair. The possibilities are really exciting.”