By Judy Halone-The Courier-Herald
There probably aren’t too many children born with a birth defect who face surgery and say, “I get to have stitches today.”
But there probably aren’t too many children like Caden Davis.
Born with a cleft lip, the 5-year-old Bonney Lake preschooler has remained brave while facing medical appointments and two surgeries. And through it all, he’s never given up on his smile.
“My husband, Dana, and I found out that Caden had a cleft lip when I was pregnant,” said his mom, Angela Davis. “We went in for our 20-week ultrasound and they saw the gap in the skin.”
Davis described a cleft lip as a separation in the skin above the upper lip and up to the nose.
“It happens at seven to eight weeks’ gestation when the left and right sides of their faces are at the formation point,” she said. “We were told he had a cleft palate as well - that involves the upper top roof of the mouth and then you get into feeding issues; it’s a whole different ball game.”
“We were scared, anxious and worried,” she said.
She wrestled with feelings of guilt.
“My first reaction was, what have I done?” she said. “What did I do as the one carrying this child? I had cut out pop, caffeine and I wouldn’t go into smokey environments. Fortunately, I looked back and knew there wasn’t anything I could have done differently.”
The Davis’ relied on their faith for the road ahead. “We knew we were given this child for a reason.”
Caden was born in August 2003 with a cleft lip, but not a cleft palate, she said.
“It wasn’t really until the moment when we saw him, right after he was born,” she said. “His little squishy face, his big, wide smile in those first hours - it was indescribable. We looked at him the way we looked at our other sons.”
Caden had surgery to close the gap when he was three months old. Although the procedure was fairly simple, his mom said the next two months were not without its challenges.
“We called him ‘Buzz Light Year’ because he had to wear this (brace) that looked like popsicle sticks,” she said. The device kept his arms perpendicular to his body in the form of the letter T.
“Trying to get him into a car seat was not fun,” she said.
Caden - and his parents - persevered. His second surgery took place in May after his face had grown.
“He bragged to all his friends in pre-school that he got to get stitches,” she said. “He’s always been confident and we’ve told him about this from the very beginning,” she said.
The surgery worked. And its success cemented the Davis’ desire to raise money for Smile Train, a nonprofit organization that provides 90,000 free cleft surgeries a year in third-world countries.
Dana Davis discovered Smile Train when their son was an infant and decided then to raise funds for the group, Angela Davis said. The first was a touchdown of success when Dana hosted a Super Bowl party in 2004.
“It was a big group of guys who stayed the weekend, played cards and watched the game,” she said. “It was his idea to start it. That first year, he took bits and pieces (of money) and asked for donations from the guys. And a portion of the percentage went into the pot from the game.”
Like a loaded freight train headed down a steep hill, the fundraising has picked up speed each year.
“We compete against each other,” Angela said.
She hosts fall raffles at their home and uses donated services and merchandise from Bonney Lake businesses.
“Their response is so generous,” she said.
The efforts are no small feat.
“I invite women to it and we have so much fun. They’re able to support Smile Train and get their Christmas shopping done at the same time.”
Each Smile Train 45-minute cleft surgery costs $250. Davis said she raised $3,700 dollars last year but this year, because of the economy, has lowered that goal to $3,000. But each dollar is significant when Angela Davis remembers that living with cleft deformities in third-world countries can become a matter of life or death.
“In some countries, they leave their children at the side of the road,” she said. “They know that if they don’t get the surgery, their child will be ridiculed. A lot of cultures think of it as a horrible thing.”
As she readies for this year’s friendly fundraising competition, Angela Davis is perpetually aware of the gift their son has been given.
“I just want people to know that it’s not a life-threatening disorder,” she said. “When I look at my son, I go, ‘oh, this is who he is.”
And if Caden Davis has anything to do with it, those recipients might some day be able to brag, “I get to have stitches today.”
Angela Davis and Smile Train have set up a Web site to donate to their cause at www.smiletrain.org/goto/cadenssmile.
Reach Judy Halone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-802-8210.