Skip to navigation

What we're up to

news News Friday, April 27, 2018 Friday, April 27, 2018 2:41 PM - Friday, April 27, 2018 2:41 PM

Patient Ambassador Cristi shares her experience as a cleft lip and palate patient at the Houston Shriners Hospital

Patient Ambassador Cristi shares her experience as a cleft lip and palate patient at the Houston Shriners Hospital

Cristi has a confident smile that instantly inspires others to do the same. That smile, along with her charm and bubbly personality are instant markers of the positive attitude – along with a great surgical team at Shriners Hospitals for Children – that carried her through some difficult times as a child with cleft lip and palate.

Cleft lip and palate is a condition that requires surgeries, treatments, speech therapy and follow-up visits to doctors for many years while a child is growing. The Houston Shriners Hospital has a premier team in the treatment of this condition, and often will accept patients who were previously treated elsewhere.

Christi came to Shriners Hospital at the age of 15, when her physician referred her to craniofacial surgeon Steven Blackwell, M.D., and oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Kamal F. Busaidy, D.D.S., FDSRCS.

“Having to change doctors and going to a different location is a little scary,” Cristi said. “But right away, the people at Shriners Hospital made the transition so smooth and made me feel so comfortable.”

Her comfort level grew when she and her family realized the high level of skill and experience of the Shriners Hospital team.

“Dr. Busaidy was one of the first surgeons I met at Shriners. He is without a doubt a very talented doctor and I was impressed with his people skills,” she said. “We went over my treatment plan together for the next few years, and I liked how, even at 15 years old, he spoke directly to me. Being someone who felt mature at that time, it is frustrating when a doctor only speaks to your parents and not you. This was never the case at Shriners Hospital, I was spoken to first, and it was awesome.”

The plan at that time was to hold off on surgery for a couple of years, to wait for her jaw to stop growing.

She was 18 and in the middle of her first college semester when she finally underwent Le Fort surgery, a particular type of jaw surgery that allows correction on three dimensions. Later, she had cosmetic surgery with Dr. Blackwell, who focused primarily on repairing her nose and parts of her cleft lip. It’s important for so many cleft lip and palate patients to have these repairs, to boost their confidence in their appearance.

“Having cleft lip and palate was tough at times, especially when I was a teenagers because we have so many insecurities and confidence issues during that time of life,” Cristi said. “However, because I had confidence in my team at Shriners Hospital, I knew that there would eventually be a good end result.”

Christi’s positive attitude, accompanied by her supportive family and hospital team, helped her feel at ease.

“Shriners Hospital is so amazing, because they do everything they can for their patients and the doctors are personable. My family is also a big help, since they have supported me emotionally,” she said.

Now, Cristi is 20 years old and studying human resource development at the University of Houston. Her goal is to work for a large company. Her natural love for people makes her a perfect candidate for this career.

As a member of the Houston Shriners Hospital patient ambassador program, she loves to share her experience and advice with other patients.

“Everything is going to be okay and no one is ever going to make you do something that you don’t want to do,” she tells them. “You just have to be strong and lean on people who will support you. Going through jaw surgery was one of toughest things I had to go through. But, because the nurses, surgeons, doctors and residents were very informative, kind and caring, they made it so much less intimidating to have surgery.”

Cristi with her physician