The ultrasound technician’s voice shifted from cooing to clinical as she drew her wand across Cara Denby’s swollen abdomen.
The Scottsdale mom-to-be, and her husband, Michael, sensed something was wrong. Seconds later, the technician informed them their daughter would be born with a cleft palate.
Denby said she was shocked and distraught during a moment they thought would be sublime.
"It was like a kick to the stomach," she said.
The couple quickly recovered composure and asked for advice.
They were referred to the Craniofacial Foundation of Arizona, a Phoenix-based organization that provides counseling, surgical referrals and financial support to parents of children with facial deformities.
Through the foundation’s mentoring program the Denbys met another mom who had gone through the same experience a year before.
"She was extremely helpful in regards to giving me information on what to expect and how to deal with things from a parent’s perspective," Denby said.
Dr. Stephen Beal, founder and chairman of the medical advisory council for the foundation, said about one in 600 live births result in cleft palate, the most common facial defect in children. The cause is unknown.
Beal said once parents know their child has the problem, a consultation is set up to inform them of what it will take to correct the situation.
"We basically cover the whole area of cleft rehabilitation — what it will take to bring the child to a good situation functionally and esthetically," he said.
But most importantly parents are reassured that they are not alone.
"I try to reassure them that the child can reach all the potential in life that they were meant to have," Beal said. "This does not need to be a handicap for them."
Marcy Andre, of Scottsdale, and her son Jay, 20, a student at Paradise Valley Community College, also receive counseling and surgical services through the foundation.
Jay Andre suffers from a continually growing tumor that wraps around the optic nerve and muscles in his face.
"The tumor is not lifethreatening, but on occasion must be debulked to prevent excessive distortion of the face," Marcy Andre said.
Marcy Andre said doctors have to be careful because cutting the tumor back can encourage it to grow.
"It’s function over form," she said. "As long as everything is functioning you don’t go in and mess with what’s going on."
Jay Andre said meeting other patients and families at the foundation helps him feel more comfortable.
"It helps because I see other people who have problems like I do. They’re getting help like I am," he said.