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Riley Hospital's cleft care team relates to patients, families

riley nurses
Posted at 1:13 PM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 13:13:00-04

INDIANAPOLIS — For four healthcare workers at Riley Hospital for Children, their work is more than just a job.

Each have their own story that brought them to Riley's cleft and craniofacial anomaly program.

"We love our patients, we care for our patients and we really just want to make sure every parent, every baby, every family member has what they need to be successful," Cara Drake-Luecking, speech pathologist at Riley, said.

"It's near and dear to my heart, connecting with families going through the same thing with my son, knowing there's support available," Jodie Skinner, an RN at Riley, said.

Drake-Luecking and Skinner both have children who were born with craniofacial anomalies.

"Luke is 10 and he's had 12 procedures so far," Skinner said.

Skinner's son
Pictures of Jodie Skinner's son Luke before and after surgery
Luke Skinner now
Picture of Luke taken in the Fall

"Miles is 10 as well, but he's only had three," Drake-Luecking said. Her husband was also born with a cleft lip.

Cara with her son Miles
Cara with her son Miles
Cara's husband and son
Cara's son and husband. Both were born with cleft lips.

Ellen Randall Kresca, a PA, and Caitlin Church, a program coordinator in the cleft care unit at Riley, were both born with craniofacial anomalies. Randall Kresca only had a cleft lip, so she had three surgeries.

Ellen Randall Kresca with her mom
Ellen Randall Kresca as baby with her mom

Church, however, had to have multiple surgeries.

"I had a cleft lip, cleft palate and craniosynostosis. I had 16 procedures by the time I graduated high school," Church said.

Caitlin Church as a baby
A 1987 photo of Caitlin Church

All these women with personal connections provide comfort to their patients and families. Those who come to Riley know there's someone who can relate to what they're going through. It also provides parents hope for the future.

"Parents can see us working in this environment and have an adult who's a model of their child and what they'll grow up to be one day," Randall Kresca said.

"It means a lot to me that this isn't just a job to go to. This is soul level work," Church said.

The Allgoods are just one of those families taken care of by the team at Riley; it doesn't stop with care in the hospital.

Emmalyn Allgood now gets to see her beauty reflected back at her through the dog her family adopted, Maverick. The cockapoo was also born with a cleft lip.

Church is the Riley team member who connected the dog breeder with the non-profit Legendary Smiles to make the special adoption happen. She had this to say about the importance of people, young and old, seeing themselves in all walks of life.

RELATED: Family adopts dog with cleft lip reflecting beauty back at their daughter, also born with cleft lip

"I think representation matters. It's important to see yourself reflected in the general community and not feel like you're an anomaly or there's something wrong with you because the more we normalize it, the less people feel badly or differently of it," Church said.