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Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023

Fixing A Cleft Defect


Dr. Ghali shows a photo of Kian as a baby.

Montana mom makes trek to local surgeon

What a beautifully marvelous gift.” – Tara Mattson

A couple of months ago, Kian Mattson wrapped up an 18-year journey. A journey that carried him and his mother from Montana to Shreveport to change his life forever.

Kian was one of 700 to one in a thousand infants born with a cleft.

Clefts are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. These congenital disabilities are commonly called orofacial clefts.

In Kian’s case, his mom, Tara, learned about a doctor in Shreveport who was highly regarded in clefts, so she and her 4-month-old bundled up and hopped an airplane for Shreveport.

Dr. G. E. Ghali is the oral and craniomaxillofacial surgeon they searched for. “They came to see me when he was an infant, and we ended up treating him. Usually, we’ll see them once or twice, and then they will go somewhere else. But [his mother’s] been back. She’s made at least 10 trips to Shreveport, driving all the way from Montana.”

“Dr. Ghali was quick to notice my fears, and he kindly calmed my fears,” Tara Mattson wrote.

“My mind was set at ease when I noticed his name boldly displayed on the spine of the book we had just reviewed as he was giving an idea of how the surgery would be done. I knew I had gone through all the extra lengths we went through for the right reasons.

Kian’s final surgery was on his nose.

“It didn’t take us long to realize that all the attributes we desired in a surgeon were in place. He was highly esteemed by his colleagues, classmates, carried out a leadership role very early in his career and truly led by example. Clearly, he dedicated his life to not only learning the role of an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, but instead, of perfecting his field. Now, I recognize it as seeing that he had put all efforts into fulfilling his calling, which is who we needed to treat our son. What a beautifully marvelous gift.”

Kian was not the worst case Dr. Ghali has ever treated, but it offered many challenges. “His cleft went right through the jawbone. On average, about six surgeries will be required from birth until they’re 18 or 20 years old. I feel honored to be able to take care of these kids, and I feel honored that the families would have the confidence in us to travel these long distances.”

Dr. Ghali explained that there are many potential complications in cleft cases and a number of mechanisms that can be affected. “There are a lot of things that can go wrong from a speech standpoint, from a chewing standpoint, from a hearing standpoint.

A tooth development standpoint. All of that is related to that area. Quite a few things can go wrong.”

“I have been frequently asked if we ‘have to’ see Dr. Ghali; and with all my being, although I’m sure my non-poker face says it all, I said ‘no’ I don’t have to, but I do because I want what is best for my son.”

“There’re a lot of doctors between here and Montana,” Dr. Ghali said. “They could have gone many, many places. But I think she liked our team. We’ve got a very dedicated team here. And you’ve got a family that’s willing to go the extra mile to get what they perceive is the best care for their kids. I’m not going to say we’re the best people in the world to do it, but I don’t think we’re too shabby.”

Tara Mattson agrees. She’s an advocate for her son and the medical team who has been such a big part of their lives.

“I feel certain that an innumerable amount of people’s lives, like ours, have been tremendously impacted because of Dr. Ghali’s devotion to his patients.

“Thank you, Hope [Dr. Ghali’s wife], for sharing your family’s leader with us. In addition, his nurse, Diane [Dr. Ghali’s nurse], has been in the front row with us all through all of our ups and downs over the past 18 years.

Kian Mattson looks at his new face.

Kian’s surgical journey comes to an end.

“Without the ladies on ‘Team Ghali,’ it just would have made coordinating Kian’s care from afar much more difficult.

“It never has been an easy road traveled, but going through these times together causes you all to be forged and knit together with one mutual goal, providing the best care for Kian.”

The final surgery for Kian was on his nose, and Dr. Ghali says he should be well on his way to getting beyond the cleft that has been his companion all his life. “That should be the last procedure that he should need. He’s done really well. He’s getting ready to go to school, college, and he’s got a really neat family, very supportive.

“I feel honored to be able to take care of these kids, and I feel honored that the families would have the confidence in us to travel long distances.”

When those parents make the trek, Dr. Ghali tells them what’s ahead. “I tell them that it’s nothing they did as the mom or dad to create this. Nothing that you drank or smoked, it’s just a sporadic occurrence. And I also tell them in the scheme of things what can go wrong in the development of a child in utero, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to them, they’ll be in great shape.”

As Kian’s journey reaches its destination, Tara Mattson sees it as a bittersweet experience.

“The bittersweet position of being at the end of Kian’s cleft treatments equates to bidding farewell to these people with whom our hearts have become so delicately intertwined. When I look at Kian and the result of his surgeries, I can see that we have come full circle with his treatment. My only hope is that, perhaps, one day, we can all cross paths and enjoy each other’s company under the Great Montana Skies. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be without them over the past 18 years.”

[Editor’s Note: Tara Mattson had left town when this interview was conducted. She generously offered to share with our readers a commentary she had written about their experience. It is quoted, in part, here.]


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