9-Year-Old is All Smiles after Multiple Surgeries to Repair Bilateral Cleft Lip and Palate

On August 24, 2010 -- the day their daughter was born – Lisa and Scott Goodson were on a canopy tour, ziplining through Hocking Hills in southeastern Ohio. The Goodsons weren’t embarking on an unusual last trimester adventure. Lisa wasn’t pregnant, and they didn’t even know the little girl who would one day become their daughter.

“I had never zip lined before, and the night before I prayed that I would stay alive,” explains Lisa with a laugh, the proud mother of only-child Emma. She and Scott adopted Emma just before her second birthday in August 2012.

“I had to take a leap of faith just to do the zip line tour, because I’m definitely not the adventurous type. So it was the perfect thing to be doing that day, because we took a leap of faith to adopt Emma.”

Married more than 24 years at the time, Lisa and Scott had long given up on their dream of being parents. They had gone through several failed domestic adoption attempts, when they decided to give international adoption a try. Lisa isn’t sure why they decided to focus on China. She says, “My heart just kept saying China. I think it’s because Emma was waiting for us.”

Emma was at an orphanage in China before she was adopted by Lisa and Scott Goodson. (Courtesy: Lisa Goodson)
Emma was born in China and was adopted just before her second birthday. (Courtesy: Lisa Goodson)

Born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, a malformation of the face and mouth, Emma underwent at least four surgeries, in China, to try and correct the problem. The procedures still left her with a large hole behind her teeth. The Goodsons knew they had a steep hill to climb, medically, when they met Emma for the first time.

“We chose to participate in the special needs program. We didn’t care because we knew we could adopt a child that needed us a lot sooner,” says Lisa, who gave up a 17-year career to become a full-time mom. “Realizing what Emma would be facing, I couldn’t imagine handing her over to a babysitter to care for her special needs, or be there during months of recovery after her surgeries.”

Surgeries – plural – indeed. From her first procedure at Cleveland Clinic Children's in 2013, to the most recent in 2019, Emma has undergone six operations. She has also endured countless hours of speech, physical and occupational therapy – without a word of complaint. 

Emma had 6 surgeries at Cleveland Clinic for her cleft lip and palate. (Courtesy: Lisa Goodson)
Emma had six surgeries at Cleveland Clinic for her cleft lip and palate. (Courtesy: Lisa Goodson)

According to Bahar Bassiri Gharb, MD, PhD, an expert in pediatric and adult craniomaxillofacial surgery and microsurgical reconstruction, who has performed many of Emma’s procedures, she has rarely seen such strength and willpower in any patient.

“Emma is amazing. Every time, after a major surgery, when she is in the hospital for a week, I ask her, ‘How are you doing?’ And she says, ‘Good.’ ‘Do you have pain?’ ‘No.’ she never complained,” says Dr. Bassiri, who is co-director of the Cleft Lip Palate and Craniofacial Anomalies Clinic with her husband, Antonio Rampazzo, MD, PhD.

Dr. Bassiri, Dr. Rampazzo and a team of specialists faced an extremely complex case. They mapped out a plan to repair the large hole in her palate and reconstruct her gumline.

Dr. Bassiri explained Cleveland Clinic’s capabilities in microsurgery reconstruction enabled the team to take skin from Emma’s forearm and use it to repair the large hole in Emma’s palate. They also used bone from Emma’s hip to reconstruct her gumline.

“This problem is difficult to correct. Many (medical) centers don’t know how to repair this,” notes Dr. Rampazzo. “But Emma has come through them all like a champ. It’s so satisfying to see her living a happy and normal life.”

Emma's major surgeries are behind her, allowing her to 'spread her wings.' (Courtesy: Lisa Goodwin)
Emma's major surgeries are behind her for now, allowing her to 'spread her wings.' (Courtesy: Lisa Goodson)

Most of Emma’s major surgeries are behind her. In her late teenage years, when she’s finished growing, she will have jaw surgery. For now, Emma can enjoy what she loves the most – being an active, engaging kid.

Lisa describes her 9-year-old as “a joyful child. She’s always happy and smiling, and brings so much joy into the lives of others. We can’t go for a walk in the neighborhood without someone calling out to Emma. Everyone loves her.”

Emma is an active 9-year-old who loves dancing, playing sports and music. (Courtesy: Lisa Goodson)
Emma is an active 9-year-old who loves dancing, playing sports and music. (Courtesy: Lisa Goodson)

A talented student in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, Emma loves riding her bicycle, skateboarding, playing sports, dancing and being a drummer. Lisa recalls that when Emma was a toddler, they walked into a music store; Emma headed straight for a drum set, grabbed the drumsticks and hasn’t stopped drumming since.

“Emma’s very confident, very outgoing and very American. She loves walking up to people in uniform and saying, ‘May I thank you for your service?” says Lisa, proudly. “She is such a blessing in our lives.”

Related Institutes: Cleveland Clinic Children's , Dermatology & Plastic Surgery Institute
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