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news News Monday, July 1, 2019 Monday, July 1, 2019 9:56 AM - Monday, July 1, 2019 9:56 AM

Accomplished teen shares challenges of growing up with cleft lip and palate

Accomplished teen shares challenges of growing up with cleft lip and palate

To be resilient means to have the ability to recover or adjust easily to misfortune or change, a description that could not be more true of Reese’s cleft lip and palate journey. Being born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate was not a misfortune for Reese, but rather a challenge that his family was ready to embrace.

Living with cleft lip and/or palate can be challenging for children. The stigma of a visually abnormal lip or speech impediment can be difficult to cope with. Reese endured constant bullying while growing up. His family moved frequently, but it was right before his teenage years, during their time in Colorado, that Reese started homeschooling in order to avoid harassment.

“This birth defect set me apart from my peers,” Reese said. “They would make fun of me because of how I looked and talked.”

With the full support of his family, Reese overcame every challenge and found comfort in doing the things he loved. When the family moved to Boswell, Oklahoma, Reese joined 4-H, a STEM, agriculture, healthy living and citizenship program. It was there that he found his niche in forestry, where he excelled and earned numerous awards at the district, state and national levels. His peers at 4-H encouraged him to go back to public school, and since enrolling in high school, Reese remained at the top of his class, academically. The 18-year-old graduated as salutatorian in May 2019 and earned the Horatio Alger Scholarship. He plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at Oklahoma State University.

“His accomplishments make me feel all warm and bubbly inside,” said Autumn, Reese’s mother. “I would say, as a parent, I have given him all the tools that I possibly can give him and now is his chance to go into the world and do whatever he wants to do and make himself happy.”

Throughout his childhood, Reese required 13 facial surgeries on his ears, throat, mouth and palate, but it wasn’t until Reese was 15 that they were referred to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Houston. Reese’s mother said that making the eight-hour drive from Boswell to Houston multiple times a year was worth worth the time. They also received some assistance with lodging and transportation from the India Shrine Center in Oklahoma City.

Reese had multiple surgeries at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Houston to improve his breathing. He also received orthodontic care. Reese’s mother said it was a weight off their shoulders, financially. As for Reese, he said he was just happy to be able to breathe through his nose and have a sense of smell.

”We have been to many cleft teams and we have gotten to see the worst and we have gotten to see the best. I think Shriners Hospitals are the best of the best,” said Autumn. “Finding a team that you trust, a team that has that expertise, we didn’t have that. But I saw that here at Shriners, they have all that. You can lose to this condition with the wrong care, and knowing that Shriners has the best surgeons, the best anesthesiologist, the best of everything, it’s reassuring.”

From finding the proper care to coping with harassment and taunting behavior from his peers when he was younger, Reese’s cleft lip and palate journey was anything but easy. Yet he remained positive and resilient. Continuing his education became the main priority for Reese. He said he is happy that his cleft lip and palate condition does not affect his intellect, and wants to broaden his knowledge as much as possible.

“I have learned to always respect others. You never know what a person is going through and how just being a friend can make all the difference,” Reese said. “I would tell kids facing similar difficulties that it does get better. Just overcome it and you will do amazing things.”

Reese holding science project robotReese as a babyReese in hospital bed