Julienne’s pregnancy was deemed high-risk because her unborn daughter, Isabella Sofia, had stopped growing. When doctors discovered this, Julienne was scheduled for multiple appointments every week to check on the health of her and her baby. At one of her appointments, an ultrasound revealed Isabella had a cleft lip and palate. Craniofacial defects, such as cleft lip and palate, are deformities in the growth of the head and facial bones.

Isabella baby

“Isabella was supposed to be born in March, but since she stopped growing, it was decided that it would be best for me to be induced early,” says Julienne.

Julienne gave birth to Isabella at the Cherese Mari Laulhere Birthing Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach at 38 weeks. Miller Children’s houses a level IV maternal care center and a level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) under the same roof, which means that a premature baby is treated at the same hospital as the recovering mother.

A level III regional (tertiary) NICU means that the unit must meet strict state regulatory criteria to provide the highest level of necessary care for very sick infants who need immediate surgery, or who weigh less than 2 pounds. The team of dedicated physicians, nurses, therapists and other care team members, combined with state-of-the-art technology, work to save the lives of infants born too sick or too early.

“The NICU can often be an overwhelming experience for families,” says Antoine Soliman, M.D., medical director, NICU, Miller Children’s. “Our care team’s goal is to include the parents in every part of the treatment process. We have daily meetings where a multi-disciplinary team assesses each patient. Parents are strongly encouraged to participate because we know that they know their child best and can provide input on their child’s care.”

Isabella spent almost one month in the NICU at Miller Children’s. Since she was born with a cleft lip and palate and a congenital heart disease, she struggled with eating and breathing. The NICU therapists worked with Isabella and her parents to help them ensure she got the nutrition she needed.

“We were very well taken care of in the NICU,” says Julienne and Deniel. “The care team was there for our family, and most importantly, our Isabella. Being a NICU parent is emotionally and physically overwhelming, but the NICU team together with the Family Resource Center gave us help and support in all ways possible.”

Isabella Isabella

In Jan. 2016, Isabella underwent the first in a series of surgeries to correct her cleft lip. She was connected with the Craniofacial Program at the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at Miller Children’s. At Miller Children’s, treatment for cleft lip is determined by not just one doctor, but a multi-disciplinary team of specialists consisting of a plastic surgeon, orthodontist, oral surgeon, pediatrician, audiologist, speech pathologist, pediatric dentist and geneticist.

“The surgery was beyond successful,” says Julienne and Deniel. “It definitely exceeded our expectations. We are so blessed and proud of her Stramski Children’s Developmental Center craniofacial team. Isabella won’t have her second surgery until she is 2-years-old.”

"After her first surgery last January, she started accomplishing so many developmental milestones,” says Julienne and Deniel. “She has bounced back and she is even more active and joyful now. She is a fighter and has braved the odds since the day she was born. She is feisty, resilient and constantly surprises her care team with what she is able to do. She wakes up every single morning with an infectious smile and she greets her world with joyfulness. Seeing her wide beautiful smile, you can't really see that Isabella has a lot of medical needs. The first thing you have to teach your child is that she is beautifully, wonderfully and perfectly made to be your child. The second thing you have to teach your child is that she is loved and beautiful things will follow. Isabella taught us to be strong each day, to be joyful always and to give thanks in all circumstances. With her medical needs, she has been through so much since the day she was born, but there she is always giving you a beautiful smile. Isabella is such a happy, brave and strong little warrior who has been our blessing from the beginning and for all days of our life.”

Isabella and parents

“Having a child with many medical needs is really overwhelming, but with so much help and support from the Miller Children's care team to our family, it was bearable,” says Julienne and Deniel. “We're blessed with the best care team and we're blessed that the hospital is very family centered. The best secret is to have a good relationship with your care team, to be open and to have the same goals for your child."

Today, Isabella is a happy and healthy 1-year-old. She participates in speech and physical therapy every week with Miller Children’s Pediatric Rehabilitation care team. Isabella also has regular check-ups with the craniofacial care team at the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center to make sure she is progressing on target.

“Isabella loves her Miller Children’s care team,” says Julienne and Deniel. “She loves her therapy sessions and is making great progress. Isabella is getting the best care for her medical needs and for that, our family is greatly blessed beyond words for the Miller Children’s care team.”