Cleft Palate Team to continue important work after professor retires - The University of Tulsa
Close Menu
Close Menu

Cleft Palate Team to continue important work after professor retires

Before her daughter Mercy was born, Jennifer Bosch had never heard of the term cleft palate. A cleft is an opening of the skin or a failure of closure of the lip or the palate. It’s one of the most common birth defects in the United States.

Mercy was less than a month old and struggling to eat. She burned more calories than she was taking in due to the cleft palate, Bosch said.

Lori Davis

In September 2010, Bosch and her husband reached out to Lori Davis, associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at The University of Tulsa, and TU’s Cleft Palate Team. Once they met with the team, the family was able to meet the oral surgeon, Dr. Kevin Smith. They also met with an audiologist, dentist, orthodontist, and pediatrician, as well as student clinicians, who receive invaluable real-world training.

“Each specialist we spoke with would take their time and answer our questions,” Bosch said. “They provided answers to questions we didn’t even know to ask. They helped with names of specialists for referrals that had cleft palate experience and empowered us to be Mercy’s best advocate.”

That’s exactly what Davis had in mind when she formed the Craniofacial Team, or Cleft Palate Team, in 2000. Since then, the team has served more than 600 patients in the Tulsa community free of charge. It is the only one of its kind in northeast Oklahoma.

Children who are born with clefts have difficulty sucking and thus have difficulty feeding because babies have to be able to suck in order to eat – and newborns must be able to eat immediately in order to grow and develop normally, Davis said.

“Children born with clefts need to be seen by a speech-language pathologist and an oral-maxillofacial surgeon specializing in working with children with clefts and other associated facial differences,” she said. “The cleft must be surgically closed when the child is of the appropriate age and weighs enough. This is usually about three months for a cleft lip and one year for a cleft palate.”

Mercy, now 13, continued working with the TU team until 2020. She had one cleft palate repair surgery and has had multiple ear and dental surgeries.

Her mother is grateful for the team’s help and support.

“The TU Cleft Palate Team brings hope, knowledge, encouragement, and personal care when a family needs it most,” Bosch said. “The team is like a lifejacket in stormy waters.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team paused its work but has recently restarted. Davis, however, is preparing for her retirement in May, a bittersweet moment for someone who never took a sick day during her tenure.

Suzanne Thompson Stanton, chair of the Department Communication Sciences & Disorders in TU’s Oxley College of Health & Natural Sciences, said Davis is a leader in the profession. “She mentored both students and fellow faculty during her tenure at TU,” Stanton said. “Her classes had a reputation as the most difficult for many years. Students respected her knowledge and the rigor in her classes as excellent preparation to practice as speech-language pathologists.”

Meanwhile, Paula Cadogan, now a retired applied associate professor and former chair of the department, hired Davis. Cadogan said Davis has a dry, direct, and quirky sense of humor that regularly made her laugh.

“She is a no-nonsense professional with an analytical mind who often cut right to the core of an issue, and this was a great help to me when writing accreditation reports for the program,” Cadogan said. “Her knowledge of adult neurogenic disorders is unsurpassed, and in her matter-of-fact way, she helped many students, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances understand and deal with various issues related to the care of aging grandparents and parents who suffered strokes, dementia, and swallowing disorders.

“Her practical and organized approach has served students, her colleagues, and the TU and local community for many years. She will be truly missed at TU.”

Despite Davis’ retirement, TU’s Craniofacial Team will continue their important work. For more information, please call 918-631-2504.