I am a poet, a real life, practicing poet who has published poems in many journals. Although I spend hours writing in solitude, I also read my poetry in public. Two years ago, I read one of my poems in front of more than 6,000 people at Clipper Magazine Stadium before a Lancaster Barnstormers’ game. It was an amazing experience and one that I could have never imagined when I was a child because I was born with a cleft palate.
Quiet, cautious and not willing to say very much in school, I spent a lot of time reading and dreaming. I was a good student but painfully shy. In classes even when I knew the answers, I wouldn’t always raise my hand. I was afraid of my voice. My family and friends didn’t treat me differently, but there were kids in the neighborhood and at school who sometimes teased me. Being different isn’t always fun when you are young and trying to fit in.
However, in my early teens, my parents discovered the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic. The doctors were always kind and sometimes asked me what I wanted to be when I got older. Of course, with them as models, I wanted to be a doctor. The clinic gave me hope that I might be able to express myself out loud instead of only on paper in the poems that was writing even as a teenager.
At 17, I finally had surgery and my life changed. A year later I went off to Saint Joseph’s College (now Saint Joseph’s University) in Philadelphia and no one ever mentioned my speech. Last year I retired from my 28-year career with Social Security. I have spent the last 15 years talking face-to-face with disability recipients in hearings, asking questions and listening. None of these things would have been possible without the therapy, surgery and treatment that I received at the Clinic.
I didn’t get to be a doctor, but for the last 12 years, I have been giving poetry readings in a voice and with a confidence that my young self would not recognize. Because of LCPC, my life has been rewarding and satisfying. I am very thankful for all it has made possible.
I have been a patient at the Lancaster Cleft Palate since it opened its doors in 1938. Because I have a cleft palate, people often didn’t know anything was different about me until I opened my mouth to speak. The LCPC gave me the gift of clear speech and the confidence to live my life to its fullest – to get married, raise a family, and hold a job. Dr. Cooper and the staff at the Clinic are my heroes. I am proud to still be a patient and volunteer at LCPC to this day.
“We didn’t know Cael had a cleft lip before he was born. We didn’t know what having a cleft lip meant — to us or to Cael. How many surgeries would he need? Why had this happened?
We had questions. The team at the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic had answers. They were sensitive to our worries and anxieties, and walked us through each step.
On July 9, 2012, Cael Mitchell was born into our family. Eight days later, the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic welcomed us into its family, and we are forever grateful.”