Hometown: 
Shell Rock, Iowa

Hunter Fasse is compassionate, kindhearted, and a friend to all who meet him. His parents, Jessi and Tom, believe much of that is thanks to the challenges he’s overcome since birth.

During Jessi’s 20-week ultrasound, an abnormality with Hunter’s facial development was discovered. The following day, Jessi’s doctor called—Hunter had a cleft lip and palate. Soon after, the Fasses were referred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“The doctors there weren’t sure they wanted to deliver in Waverly, so they recommended we come down here [to Iowa City],” says Tom.

Jessi and Tom met with the cleft team at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, who put them at ease.

“My wife was saying, ‘What did we do wrong? What could we have done to change it?’” remembers Tom. “But after talking to the doctors here, it was nothing we did at all.”

“It was devastating to learn there’s something wrong with your child,” adds Jessi. “Once we met with the cleft team, they explained how it was relatively simple to correct. They could answer all of a worried mother’s questions before I could even ask them.”

Hunter was born in February 2007, and by that July, he was ready for his first surgery.

“Each cleft is different,” explains Jessi. “Hunter’s was unilateral—just on one side. They showed us the ‘before’ pictures of babies and the ‘after’ pictures, which really helped ease us.”

During the procedure, the pediatric otolaryngology team straightened out the muscle at the top of his lip. They also reconstructed his nostril, since he only had one at birth due to his cleft lip.

“It was pretty scary giving your child up, but everybody at the hospital was amazing,” says Tom. “Everybody was trying to comfort us during Hunter’s surgery.”

Hunter underwent a second surgery shortly after his first birthday to reconstruct his palate.

“They closed the gap, which went from his front jawline straight back. It was a little wider than a pencil,” says Jessi.

Hunter continued to meet with his cleft team twice a year. In 2013, he underwent jaw reconstruction using bone from his own hip.

“They took the top piece of the wing of his hip—about the size of a fifty cent piece,” says Tom. “They put it into his lip and grafted it in there so the teeth would grow.”

Hunter has undergone years of speech therapy, and he is now looking forward to starting the orthodontia phase of his treatment. He has even participated in research studies in the hopes of helping others with cleft lip and palate.

The Fasses are thankful for Hunter’s care team, who has been alongside them since the beginning.

“There is a great team of professionals to help not only your child, but also you as a parent,” says Jessi. “We’ve never met a single person here that didn’t go above and beyond.”

The Fasses are proud of Hunter’s attitude throughout his journey, and they are excited for the future.

“Hunter has taught me to always be strong,” says Jessi. “My hope for Hunter is that he will change the world with his smile.”

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