Woman treated for rare birth defect, final checkup at GRU - WFXG FOX 54 - News Now

Woman treated for rare birth defect, final checkup at GRU

AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) -

Childhood wasn't easy for Alyssa Harden. She was born with a facial disorder called cleft lip and cleft palate. Experts aren't 100 percent sure how infants are affected, but for Harden, the disability was passed down genetically.

"As soon as my mom gave birth to me, it was very obvious that I had one," Harden said.

One in 700 babies is born with cleft lip and palate. It is the fourth most common birth defect in the U.S. It develops early in pregnancy, forming when there's not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not join together properly.

Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Georgia Regents Medical Center Dr. Jack Yu met Harden when she was barely 6 months old. He says Harden had to have surgery immediately

 "If you don't allow a baby to learn at that time, from about 6 months to 18 months, the ability to speak normally is impaired," Dr. Yu said.

Harden, 19, says she was raised by her grandparents. She remembers several surgeries in elementary and middle school when she began developing her permanent teeth. Her grandparents were there to comfort her.

"Coming home and crying on their laps after school, and them telling me that God made me that way for a purpose I couldn't understand," Harden said.

Harden says she still struggles with medical depression, but after 19 years, she's joined by her grandmother and sister for what could be her final checkup. If she chooses, Harden can schedule her last plastic surgery, but she says she's grown to love and be proud of the way her face looks.

"It makes me happy when I see other people going through it, and I'm able to talk to them and tell them, ‘Hey it's not that bad,'" Harden said. "But I'm definitely a stronger person for it."

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