What do you know about cleft palates?

Third in the Mini-Med Series 2019


Photographer: Claire R.

Dr. Stotland demonstrated surgical techniques in tangible and understandable ways for Pre Med Club students and visitors.

Claire R. and Acila G.

ASD’s Pre Med club was delighted recently to host Dr. Mitchell Stotland, a pediatric reconstructive surgeon from Sidra Hospital, who gave a lecture about the facial deformities in children and adolescents he’s previously treated.

The third Mini-Med presentation provided ASD students with some basic background behind facial surgery and medical interventions. Photographer: Claire R.

He presented facts and graphic images of more than 20 children with cleft lips and palates on February 26. Cleft lips and palates are some of the most common types of deformities, and students learned that such conditions occur when structures and bones do not fuse together properly during fetal development.

In general, during fetal development, bones reach toward the face from three different sides: right, left and the top. In some cases, the bones do not merge correctly, leading to clefts that may be vertical or horizontal. This does not just affect the way people look! We learned that these deformities are often associated with difficulties in vision, breathing, eating, and more.

Also noteworthy, the Pre Med club has previously worked with Smile Train, a nonprofit and charity organization headquartered in New York that not only brings awareness to disfiguration but also funds corrective cleft and palate surgeries for children. During the recent ASD Friendship Festival, the Pre Med club ran a booth and donated all the funds collected to the organization. You can learn more about the organization through this link: Smile Train.

Dr. Stotland makes an ear out of a sweet potato.  Photographer: Claire R.

In addition to the information presented during the talk, Dr. Stotland also planned some intriguing hands-on activities. We learned how to do basic surgical sutures on a piece of fluffy material using real hospital supplies. We also watched how to make ear prosthetics out of sweet potatoes. Dr. Stotland explained that in reality, one can make ear prosthetics out of rib cartilage. Though we ran out of time and were not able to complete the activities, the presentation was remarkably interesting! Dr. Stotland suggested that next year, we only do the hands-on activity, so it is definitely something to look forward to.

A great deal of creativity and artistry is involved in making facial prosthetics, and Dr. Stotland shared with us that he was drawn to the field because of “the amazing artistry involved in the work.” It was interesting to learn how medicine combines science and art to help people from all over the world. Nonetheless, he explained that despite being “a ve-e-e-errry long road to get to the point of practicing medicine,” we should not be discouraged. Instead, we should “focus on the little steps along the way that should be very interesting, and touching, and challenging, and evolving. Enjoy the process, not the destination.”


Students watch as Dr. Stotland demonstrates how to do a surgical suture. Photographer: Claire R.

Everyone who attended the presentation left with new ideas and learned new lessons. One of the main points for consideration was that people subconsciously judge those with facial deformities. Therefore, it is important to understand that they can be just as kind and intelligent as anyone else. Surgeons like Dr. Stotland aren’t just trying to ‘fix’ the way their patients look, but also to make sure that their patients lead healthy and happy lives.

A great thanks goes to Dr. Stotland for taking the time out of his busy schedule to come and educate us all. We all look forward to seeing what kind of activities he will bring next year.  

If you wish to learn more, the Sidra Mini-Med Series is open to all interested individuals at ASD. Dr. Stotland, along with his colleagues, are “most interested in hearing feedback from the students who have attended this year, and in years past.”

Unfortunately, the doctors have seen that “student-turnout has dwindled [over the years],” and in Dr. Stotland’s opinion, “it should be considered a unique privilege for a high school to have physicians and surgeons coming to share their work.”