Kai Doyal, 5, calls his braces “buttons”. They are a part of the treatment he has been receiving for cleft pallet at the Barrow Cleft and Craniofacial Center in Phoenix.
Also a part of his treatment: The Happy Camper’s Speech Camp.
Children like Doyal attend a hospital ‘camp’ for 14 days. They do everything from sack races to arts and crafts, and all the while they work on their speech.
“The kids do therapy while they’re playing, so they don’t really realize that they’re doing therapy,” said Deborah Leach, speech pathologist at Barrow.
Craniofacial conditions happen in the early stages of embryology, according to Leach. The muscles don’t come together the way they should.
Cleft lip and pallet can cause difficulties with articulation, as the tongue, teeth and lips may work together differently. Also, hyper nasality causes too much air to come through the nose and makes it difficult to understand words.
In the camp’s four short years, a significant difference has been seen.
“Many of the patients that have speech issues when they come into the camp don’t need any more therapy by the time they’re done with camp,” said Leach, “If they do, it is drastically minimized.”
Each year the Barrow’s sponsored program seeks out patients that have the greatest needs.
Two years ago, Sarah Lopez attended the speech camp. The 16-year-old wasn’t sure what to expect.
“At first I was nervous,” said Lopez, “But, throughout the time it got really comfortable.”
Additionally, she says the camp helps with more than just speech.
“It’s for everything. It helps with speech, it helps with being open, talking to people, and makes you less shy about stuff,” said Lopez.
She has come back to the camp each year as a volunteer, aiming to make other nervous newbies feel at ease.
“I know what they’ve been through, I know the surgeries they’ve gone through, I had the same thing,” said Lopez.
Leach is dedicated to helping kids like Doyal and Lopez, and understands the time it truly takes.
“Cleft and craniofacial is not something where you have surgery and then you’re done. For these patients, it’s kind of a life-long process,” said Leach.
As for Lopez, she hopes to help others well beyond Happy Camper’s Speech Camp.
“I’m thinking about actually becoming a speech therapist. I can’t wait,” said Lopez.