A custom-designed doll helps cleft lip and palate patients

A doll being used to help cleft lip and palate patients at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH) has attracted worldwide attention as a valuable teaching tool.

The doll, created by the SCH Cleft and Craniofacial team, is being used to help educate parents in prenatal consultations.

Many babies born with a cleft lip require taping prior to corrective surgery to stop the muscles pulling the cleft further apart and prevent the bone in the gum line from projecting further forward. They have lip surgery at around three to five months, and palate surgery after that.

SCH Cleft and Craniofacial Clinical Nurse Consultant Danielle Gardner came up with the idea for the doll after seeing parents struggle with applying the tape on their newborn babies.

Danielle embarked on an international search for a medical doll with a cleft lip and when she was unable to find one she asked her colleague, plastic surgeon Dr Kevin Ho to assist.

Dr Ho has created two dolls for SCH and one for The Cleft Lip and Palate Clinic at Canberra Hospital. The doll is also being used as a training tool via teleconference at other hospitals in Australia.

Danielle said it was a simple idea but it would help so many families.

Trying to learn the taping technique on a squirming baby can be very difficult,” she said. “The doll helps because we can start teaching them before the baby is born. It makes it easier for parents to visualise.

The inspiration for the doll was five-month-old Rafferty Kendon (pictured), who experienced many complications as the result of his cleft lip.

Rafferty’s mum Mel said she had struggled with the taping on Rafferty’s fragile newborn skin and the doll would help many parents in the same situation.