NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — North Shore-LIJ’s Hagedorn Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Center hosted a special party for parents and their children Monday night. The families adopted Chinese and Korean kids who were born with cleft palates.

“A cleft lip and a cleft palate is where the lip and palate don’t fuse properly in utero. When this happens, there are feeding issues, because it would be like if we were sucking on a straw, and there was a hole above the soda-line. We would get air because air is lighter than soda. So when these babies are born and they have holes in their palates, they’re open to their nasal passages,” said Linda Dunkley, nurse coordinator for the Center.

Paul Clarke adopted 3-year-old Eddie from China just before he was two. The boy was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate.

“Parents can elect to adopt a special needs child and such adoptions take place faster. “They have the option of selecting a special needs child, and most of these parents have done so because they can get a child faster that way. And all of these children have this facial deformity, which is very fixable. So the parents know beforehand that the kids have cleft lip and palate. They’ve chosen to adopt on of these children,” Dunkley said.

The child already had some surgery and will need more as he grows. He also has had to learn English. He’s expected to go into a regular kindergarten.

“Scars are very minimal. Today’s surgical procedures are much better than they were years ago. Maybe we would bump into a 40 or 50-year-old person on the street and you could tell that they had a cleft palate or cleft lip or something. Today’s surgery is so much better performed and it’s much harder to detect,” Dunkley said.

Thanks to surgery, little Eddie is doing better. “He’s in a special school in the mornings, he is speaking more consonants. We went to Disney over the summer, and he pointed to the tracks, asked what it was, and I said ‘monorail’. With that, a train came by, and he just looked up and perfectly clear he said ‘monorail’,” Clarke said.

The Clarke family lives in Plainview. They also have an 8-year-old daughter, Gwen, who likewise was adopted from China in 2003.

“My daughter Gwen was so terrific, so perfect. My wife and I decided we kind of owed it to try a cosmetic special need like cleft lip or palate,” Clarke said.

Each year, over 5,000 babies are born with clefts in the United States, about one in 700 born.

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