Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
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Monroe Carell Jr.
Children's Hospital
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2200 Children's Way
Nashville, TN 37232

(615) 936-1000

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Meet Finn


Four-year-old Finn Pinkston is eating the family out of house and home, but it’s not a problem for the parents of this active and growing young boy. Early in his life, feeding problems were his parent’s greatest worry because Finn was born with a cleft lip and palate.

“With Finn’s cleft lip, our concerns about speech and appearance were always there,“ said his mother Jessica. “But my greatest relief was when members of the cleft lip and palate team at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt assured me that I would be able to feed my newborn.” 

Finn Pinkston
Finn just a few weeks before his surgery

Cleft lip (cheiloschisis) and cleft palate (palatoschisis) are openings in the lip or roof of the mouth when those areas do not fuse together during the first three months of pregnancy. Clefts are one of the most common birth defects, occurring in about 1 in 1000 children born in the U.S.

Jessica and Chad Pinkston, who live in East Nashville, learned their child could be born with a cleft lip and palate after an ultrasound at a 20-week prenatal checkup.  “It opened a whole new world of questions,” said Jessica. “It’s a worry that can become an obsession and then you realize that a cleft is not the total sum of your child.”

Doctors and staff on the cleft lip and palate team worked side-by-side with Jessica and Chad to address questions about upcoming surgeries, appearance, and health issues such as feeding. Babies with cleft lips or palates often have feeding problems because they cannot get enough suction while breast or bottle feeding.

Finn was scheduled for his cleft lip repair at five months. Surgeons prefer to wait until infants are at least 10 weeks old and weigh 10 pounds before repairing cleft lips. He also got ear tubes during his first surgery to reduce ear infections that are common in children with cleft palates.

“The lip reconstruction lasted about an hour,” remembers Jessica. “Recovery was a breeze and Finn was well enough to start daycare about three weeks later.” Jessica and Chad fed Finn with a special bottle designed for infants with clefts.

Repairing his cleft palate would have to wait until his growing palate was more stable.  A cleft palate is typically repaired between 12 months and 15 months of age. 

Finn's palate repair surgery was scheduled when he was one year old just before he was ready to begin talking. Planning reconstructive palate surgery before children begin to speak helps them overcome speech problems later.

Finn Pinkston

“The hospital stay after palate surgery was three days,” said Jessica. “As soon as he had fully recovered from surgery he was ready to start speech therapy at Vanderbilt. The speech team at Bill Wilkerson Center not only understand the effects that a cleft palate has on the child’s ability to produce sound, they also know how to relate to children and engage them in learning through play. Finn saw speech therapy as his special playtime rather than work and we really appreciated how the speech team was able to engage with him to get results. The letter F was difficult for Finn for a long time, but the other day at soccer practice he pronounced his name perfectly when he introduced himself to his coach.”

Finn is now an active, growing and healthy young boy. He has a small scar on his lip that few people recognize.

“Chad took Finn for an ear tube follow-up recently, and the nurse didn’t even notice his lip,” remarked Jessica. My advice for parents who first learn about the diagnosis is don’t obsess. Remember that you’ll be able to feed your baby and that they are in good hands. It’s all going to be okay.”

Last Edited: June 30, 2016
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