ACPA Family Services

Cleft-Craniofacial Community Stories

Jacqueline Denise Militano

(age 18)

Once upon a time, in a far away land, there lived a beautiful young princess who possessed magical powers that helped her conquer all of the mystifying demons that came her way

Like every little boy or girl, this was me! Though, from the start, I encountered my first monster, or challenge. I was born with a cleft palate. As an infant, I underwent two surgeries to repair my “handicap.” However, that was only the first of my challenges.

At age five, I made my first trip to Walt Disney World with my family. Yes, I know, this does not sound like a challenge, but this trip presented one for the future. We were in the Magic Kingdom, coincidence for a princess, and we went to a live show. Excited, I sat in the front row to watch Mickey Mouse himself. The marvelous, magical, mighty mouse stepped onto the stage and from that second I was hooked. I had met my match, found my Prince Charming! It was then that I decided what it was that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to perform (well, it was either that or become a veterinarian that specialized in mice!) Thus, my determination to become a “triple threat” (singer/dancer/actress) on the spectacular stage began with that trip. Walt Disney was right when he said “It all started with a mouse!”

Through the years, I did anything and everything to accomplish my dream. Let’s just say it wasn’t very difficult for Rapunzel to let down her hair. It seemed I was “letting down my hair” almost anywhere that anyone would watch. Always in the spotlight, I knew more and more with each day that I longed for a life on the stage. Unlike Sleeping Beauty, I was awake, alive, active, and always reaching for the stars. However, my journey was put to a screeching halt. Suddenly, in my teens, I was no longer able to articulate or sing on the stage due to the hypernasality and poor articulation of my voice, due to my cleft palate. The princess was captured, again, by a monster.

I underwent two more operations to repair my mouth. The first occurred in 1997 with the closing of an opening in my hard palate, a fistula repair, and the second years later in 2000 with the extending of my soft palate, a pharyangeal flap. At both points in my life I had to overcome the obstacles that God placed before me, as a test of faith and character. Well, I passed, with the help of my devoted family and friends and an incredible craniofacial team. I was not exactly the typical damsel in distress. I woke up in the hospital with a strange pain, tubes in my nose, an IV in my hand, and a monitor on my finger that looked like E.T. every time the little red light went on. At that point, I did not believe I would get through the months of rehab and therapy that followed. I was on a liquid diet for about four weeks, and I was unable to speak or sing at first. Ironically, it was then that I felt more and more like I needed to perform than I did watching Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World ten years earlier. Vigorously, I set out to speak and sing again, through voice and speech lessons, the way that I always had been able to before, only better. Day after day, I tried to get the muscles in my brand new mouth to cooperate with my destiny. I fought to succeed and battled my monsters. A princess should never falter in her own kingdom! Eventually, I was healed. I returned to the stage with a bright and beautiful voice.

Having slayed the dragon, more ambitious and determined than ever, I performed in play after play, year after year, never letting any trolls step in front of the drawbridge to my goal. Unlike Cinderella, I didn’t bail at midnight. I stayed at the ball and danced with my prince, and to this day I am still there.

Nowadays, I am a freshman Theater major at George Mason University in Virginia, who recently appeared in the fall main stage production of The Heiress. I have made it this far! I am who I am because of my cleft palate. I am actually truly thankful for it, as it is a huge aspect of my life. Because of my struggles I have learned to live, love, and laugh, and I continually encourage everyone whom I encounter to “never shy away from the frog, kiss it, he may become a prince.”

The beautiful princess reigned over her kingdom for all to see and conquered the monsters of the land. She then made it possible for everyone in the kingdom to dream, and make their dreams come true, and she lived happily ever after. To be continued…

Last Updated: Jul 24, 2006