The Craniofacial Program at the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach provides care to children with congenital birth defects such as cleft lip/palate, skull or ear problems, and other craniofacial abnormalities. The craniofacial team at the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center recognized the need to provide comfort to parents and children, especially during their first surgical experience. This is how the Craniofacial Courage Bear Program came about.

Patients typically complete their first surgery for their cleft lip by 6 months of age, and if they also have a cleft palate, they complete a second surgery before 18 months of age.  Every patient is unique so surgical timelines may vary.  Patients receiving surgery for other craniofacial conditions are also eligible to receive a Craniofacial Courage Bear at the time of their first surgery. 

Through her affiliation with the American Cleft Palate Craniofacial Association (ACPA), Jennifer Fassoth, nurse specialist for the Craniofacial Program at Miller Children's & Women's, became aware of the Cleft Courage Bear. It features stitches across the upper-lip and has been comforting patients and families for nearly 30 years.

Jennifer recognized that the ACPA Cleft Courage Bear would be a meaningful way to implement the MemorialCare values of patient and family centered care.  Jennifer and her craniofacial team members felt the bears would be a great way to provide comfort to patients and parents / caregivers after surgery and brought the idea to life at the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center.  The leadership team at the Children’s Village was supportive of the idea and was able to secure funding for the bears through the generosity of the Steel Magnolias.  The Steel Magnolias is an all-volunteer organization whose main recipient is the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at Miller Children's & Women's Hospital Long Beach that has been dedicated to children and families since 1975.

Craniofacial Bear“Our first courage bear was provided to a patient who was 8-months old at the time of her cleft lip surgery. Her mother was so worried for her before and during surgery,” said Jennifer. “After a successful procedure and when her daughter received the bear, mom cried tears of joy. The parents truly feel cared for during this stressful time.”

A day or two after a patient has gone through their first surgery, they are presented with a Craniofacial Courage Bear, accompanied with a certificate and a balloon to congratulate them. For the patient, having a toy with a similar condition creates relatability and comfort. The bear is unique to their experience by wearing a Craniofacial Program shirt with the Miller Children’s & Women’s logo. Care team members and a child life specialist visit the patient and parent/caregiver post-op to show their support and care.

Jennifer emphasizes how conveying care for children and parents/caregivers in the Craniofacial Program is important to the whole care team.

“We hope that the family knows how important it is for us to convey that we care,” said Jennifer. “We strive to let them know, as a team, we are here to support them.”

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