Doctor starts non-profit for cleft lip repair

Healthwise: Cleft lip surgery

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Every parent dreams of having a healthy baby.

According to the March of Dimes, nearly 7,000 babies are born every year in this country with a birth defect in the lip or tongue.

Dr. Joshua Demke is a facial plastic surgeon and Texas Tech Physician with a passion for repairing a cleft lip or cleft palate.

He explains a cleft lip is when a baby is born with the lip split open on one or both sides. A cleft palate is a similar deformity where the roof of the mouth, the palate, is also split open.

Dr. Demke says there are 2 major misconceptions about these abnormalities. First, many people assume it is just a cosmetic problem. He says it is cosmetic but it involves so much more than that. It can take a team of many specialists to treat the child, from the surgeon to the speech therapist to the orthodontist and many others.

Ironically, he says the second misconception is almost the polar opposite of the first. He says some people are devastated to learn that their child has a cleft lip. But, he explains, “It is a problem, but it’s a problem that we can fix surgically to the point that is a very fine, barely noticeable scar on the lip.”

Dr. Demke says there are many famous people who began their lives in surgery to repair a cleft lip, including Tom Brokaw of NBC news and actor Joaquin Phoenix. He says a cleft lip or palate does not involve the brain or a child’s potential in life. He adds, ‘So you can do whatever you want , accomplish any life goal with a cleft.”

There are 25 to 30 kids with a cleft born in our region every year. But Dr. Demke adds that worldwide, there are as many as 175,000 babies born with this problem, or 1 baby every 3 minutes. So, he feels called to take his skills to other countries on mission trips with a team of other doctors and specialists to help children who may not get a chance for that kind of repair like they would in America.

He says, “A lot of those babies and children sometimes have to wait years to get the same treatment that in a country with good health care, we tend to do a cleft lip repair in the first 3 months of life and a cleft palate by about 12 to 15 months of age. But sometimes, on these mission trips, you see these kids that are 4, 6, 8 years, even adults who have never had their clefts repaired. So it’s very rewarding to be able to do those.”

It is even more rewarding, he says, to return to the same county later and follow up with the patient to see how the repair has impacted the life of the child and his or her family.

Four years ago, Dr. Demke made an effort to include social media in his cleft awareness efforts. He created the on-profit called Cupcakes for Clefts. He says, “It’s a local, small grassroots organization with several local fundraisers to bring awareness to cleft lip and palate, problems that can be fixed.”

That nonprofit has prompted several fundraisers, including a lemonade stand called “Lemonade for lips”, to dozens of little Llamas he likes to gives to his patients. But these are no ordinary llamas.

]He says, “We had medical students sew some cleft stitches on there (lips) and we have people donate and sponsor the price of the llama for the non-profit and we’ve been giving the little llamas to babies that have clefts both in the US and when we go on mission trips.”

If you’d like to sponsor a llama with its stitched lip for a child who has been through that surgery, contact Dr. Joshua Demke through his facebook page, “Cupcake for Clefts”, or his Instagram with the same name.

There is another fundraiser coming up for the non-profit. It’s the first annual Clefts United 5k / FUN RUN. That is planned for September 21st and Urbanovsky park on the Texas Tech campus at 17th and Flint. It will be a fun event for the whole family with t-shirts, cotton candy, bounce houses and more to raise awareness about a common birth defect that can be repaired. You can register at 8 a.m. that Saturday morning or sign up early by going to

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