I’m Carrissa and I’m 22 years old. I was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate, but I feel like I live a crazy blessed life. Obviously it wasn’t always easy, but the cool thing about clefts is that you become such a strong person just by going through it all. I remember exactly two of my four surgeries. I was originally treatment planned to have more than four, but between being incredibly lucky and being too afraid of more surgery to fix things cosmetically, four was the magic number. When I was born, my mother wasn’t even told the sex of her newborn, all she heard was ‘cleft lip and palate’ as I was handed off to nurses. I was born at 8.5 lbs, and by three months old, I weighed just over 7 lbs. My parents had a lot of trouble feeding me and they became experts at infant choking CPR. I can’t even imagine what they went through. Carrying an infant with arm guards and two black eyes through the supermarket must have been so hard, knowing that no one else understood.
I had my lip reconstruction and my palate reconstruction before I was old enough to remember, thankfully. The earliest memory I can recollect is waking up from a bone graft from my hip to my jaw. I vividly remember waking up in the hospital with tubes full of blood coming off of my hip. That was my last surgery until I was 15. At 15 they did a maxillary advancement to fix my under bite, and they took out my wisdom teeth while they were at it since I only had top ones. A few months after that, my mom asked me if I would do one final surgery to fix the appearance of my nose and scar. At the time I was just too scared to do it again. I played the saxophone, and it was hard enough to re-learn after the jaw surgery. I wasn’t willing to go through it again. Now I’m perfectly happy with my face. It’s me, and it took a lot to become me, so the opinions of others really don’t matter anymore. I still talk kind of funny, but that’s okay.
I went to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne to become a dental hygienist and I’m happy to say I am licensed now. I always knew I wanted to help people, so it eventually occurred to me that I know how it feels to be scared and alone and not understand what’s going to come next, so why not help people in a way I understand most? In hygiene school, I did a lot of researching on clefts. I ended up learning more about myself and others with this condition, and one day I hope to bring light to us and let the public see that it’s very common. I want to inform the general public about what this condition is and dispel some of the misconceptions. We are all here for a reason, and mine is to help others in every way I am able. My fiancée, who I have been with for nearly six years, is studying medical imaging, so soon we will be helping others together.