BROWNSBURG — July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month. It's a month dedicated to raising awareness and improving understanding of orofacial clefts, clefts of the lip and palate, and other conditions of the head and face.
For families part of the cleft community, it's a time where their stories are more widely shared, giving a glimpse into the lives they live 24/7, 365 days a year.
April and Jack Allgood are parents to a child, Emmalyn, who was born with a cleft lip and palate.
"We found out on our 20-week ultrasound Emmalyn was going to be blessed with a unilateral cleft lip," April said. "That's when we began to plan with the Riley Care team."
"When she was two-and-a-half, almost three months, on Halloween actually, she was given here forever smile. She had her first surgery then. When she was almost 11-months-old, she had her palate repaired. All those surgeries were very, very challenging," April said.
The Allgoods spent many days and nights making sure their daughter, not even a year old, would avoid touching her face as she healed from surgery. They also spent time learning what foods and utensils would be best for Emmalyn as they all adjusted to her forever smile. Now, almost 5-years-old, Emmalyn will undergo at least two more surgeries. Her family will continue to love and support here through the challenges ahead.
"In this world, it's a crazy place. We've just learned that it's important for her to wake up every day and understand that when she wakes up and looks in the mirror, she's as beautiful as everyone as else," April said.
Through a unique connection, Emmalyn now gets to see herself reflected through their family pet, Maverick.
"She'll often look at him and say 'you're special just like me. God made you special because you have a cleft lip.' It's just been awesome because it's helped her embrace her sweet unique difference in this world," April said.
"He's been a blessing, just being honest. We didn't anticipate getting a dog when we did, but the story in which he came to us is too good to be true. Truly a gift from God," Jack said.
Maverick's journey to the Allgoods started with Celeste Edwards, a dog breeder.
"I determined at the moment I saw him that what I wanted from him was a family affected by cleft," Edwards said.
Edwards spent weeks nursing Maverick, bringing him wherever she went because of the special attention the puppy needed. Although she tried, Edwards had a hard time finding a family for Maverick. She decided to go with people who had adopted from her before, but at the last minute, that family canceled.
"I was so relieved. I knew this was my chance to find him the perfect home," Edwards said.
Not knowing where to turn, Edwards gave the care team at Riley Children's Health a call. They reached out to the non-profit Legendary Smiles.
"Never in a million years would I expect a blessing this size," Monica Bush, the non-profit's founder, said.
Bush's son, Henry, was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. At 10-years-old, he's had 12 surgeries and may need more in the future.
Bush wants Legendary Smiles to be a beacon and a guiding light for families like hers.
"That was my story. We didn't know anyone with a cleft. We didn't know what a cleft was and I think the general public doesn't understand how involved it is in the beginning," Bush said.
Legendary Smiles connects families with a network of people who understand their ups and downs, their struggles and their wins. The non-profit connected the Allgoods with Maverick. Bush shared a social media post. April saw it and knew her family had to have the dog.
"After talking with her, I knew. I knew this was where he was supposed to go," Edwards said of her conversation with April.
"My heart is so full. I can't even. It just makes me cry thinking about it because this is going to impact her forever. She's going to remember this the rest of her life," Bush said.
The Allgoods are working on training Maverick, teaching him to sit, shake and all the things you teach a dog so he's a well-trained companion. In turn, he's teaching them and everyone who hears this story a valuable lesson that Jack sums up best.
"I think really embracing someone being different. That's the beauty of all this," he said.