For Brettney O'Connell and her two young children, the hectic life of getting care when both kids are born with cleft palates is all too familiar.

The 29-year-old woman, her son Jordan, 9, and daughter Lindsey, 7, talked about the challenges they face shortly after the two kids took part in a ribbon cutting Thursday morning at Children's Hospital Colorado. The event unveiled a piece of crucial equipment that will make the lives of the O'Connell's and similar families much easier.

"When Jordan was a baby, we had to drive two hours, twice a week for a while," Brettney O'Connell said. "We did that for about two months."

The mother said that dealing with her children's condition that left them with openings in the roofs of their mouths has definitely been hectic. Each of the kids had to have multiple surgeries before they were 1 year old. The family also juggles the unpredictable, very transient Army lifestyle as Brettney's husband Jake O'Connell is a soldier at Fort Carson. And the O'Connell's have been seeing multiple doctors for years, Bretteny said.

The kids had an appointment after Thursday's ribbon cutting event concluded.

"Jordan doesn't come (to the doctor) as often as Lindsey," she said. "Her cleft is a little more complicated."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2,650 babies are born with cleft palate in the United States each year. The condition forms during the sixth and ninth weeks of pregnancy and the roof of the mouth does not join together. For some babies with cleft palate, the front and back parts of the palate are both open.

The CDC says that 4,440 children are born with cleft lip, which is a separation of the two sides of the upper lip. Many kids have both conditions at the same time.

Both abnormalities can lead to problems eating and speaking clearly, or can cause hearing problems, ear infections and issues with teeth.

On Thursday, the O'Connell kids helped use a large pair of scissors to cut the ribbon on the panoramic dental X-ray machine Thursday. The $53,000 purchase was made possible by donations taken in at Great Clips hair salons around southern Colorado. After the unveiling, Lindsey O'Connell became the first to get scanned by the piece of equipment. She sat in the chair with her eyes wide open. The apparatus rotated around Lindsey's head and an image of her jaw quickly appeared on a computer screen.

"I was excited," she said while holding the large red ribbon she and her brother had just helped cut.

Jordan O'Connell didn't know what to expect when his family was asked to take part in the ceremony.

"I thought it would be outside," he said of the new piece of machinery.

Multiple officials and a pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor who leads the Colorado Springs Cleft Clinic were also on hand on Thursday at the clinic on Briargate Parkway.

They boasted about the facility, saying it's a place where multiple healthcare providers can come and give cleft patients and their families "a one-stop shop" to get the care they need. The one missing piece was the X-ray machine, Dr. Allison Dobbie said.

Patients come from all around southern Colorado and even from parts of New Mexico and western Kansas for care at the cleft clinic, the physician said. Without the panoramic X-ray device, kids would have to be referred to dentists and orthodontists at other locations. She and others said that inconvenience would lead to skipped appointments and sometimes attrition with patients who really need more care.

"We are really hoping this new equipment and all that goes along with it will help further increase what we can do for our patients," Dobbie said.


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