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Bonham Journal, Wednesday September 20th, 2006 for Craniofacial
“God chose us as parents for a reason,” noted Don Dougan.
As Brisa sits in her highchair munching her favorite food,
cheese, her smiles are contagious. She begins to laugh and giggle
along with a little showing off of course. After two slices of
cheese, Brisa is still hungry. A quick reach for the box of cookies
in her mother’s hand is an obvious answer of yes or no. She picks up
each cookie as if to inspect it as children do. The particular
cookie is not quite right for eating just now, Brisa sets the cookie
down and begins her grins and giggles.
Brisa is bound to be life of the party. Her spirit at such a young
age is more than contagious. However the past year was not so
certain for the Dougan family.
Brisa was born April 25, 2005. Melissa had tried for months to get
pregnant. The dream had finally come true and both Melissa and her
husband Don couldn’t wait for their arrival. The delivery would be
Melissa’s first and Don’s second.
Melissa was admitted nine months later on a Monday to induce labor.
After more than a few hours of excitement and pain, Brisa had
entered the world. Moments later Melissa felt relieved but Don
noticed that Brisa’s fingers and toes were webbed together. ‘Her
feet are webbed together,” commented Don as Melissa lay unable to
see for herself.
A doctor of 20 years noticed Brisa’s webbed feet and fingers and
declared it was the first time he had ever seen anything like it.
Alarming is find out after nine months of a normal pregnancy that
something is wrong with the child. More alarming is to hear a doctor
of 20 years explain how he had never seen such a thing.
So the journey begins. As Brisa is whisked away, Melissa is more
than concerned with her child’s health and also attempting to
recover from an unscheduled c-section. Don is notifying family
members anxiously awaiting good news of some kind of problem. As Don
finally gets Melissa to sleep after assurance of their daughter’s
well being, he steps into the hallway and is grabbed by a nurse.
“We found it in ‘the book’”.
Don is taken to an opened book from possibly 1970 which include
pictures of children severely affected with Apert Syndrome and words
that include possible death. The book explains that Apert is a
congenital condition that falls under a broad classification of
craniofacial/limb anomalies. The syndrome causes the abnormal growth
of several bones in the body.
After letting the information sink in and somewhat understand what
the condition is, Don approaches his mother and daughter to attempt
to explain with copies of the book in hand.
After an emotional frenzy, Melissa wakens; Don sits waiting with
millions of thoughts running across his mind. As he stutters
thoughts and words, Melissa thinks the worst. Don is finally able to
explain the syndrome which gives Melissa a short sigh of relief. The
possibility of death has safely exited her mind. Her bold,
optimistic personality is shining through.
As the parents talked with social workers, Don remembers the one
word that she stressed to the two of them. Honesty. “I didn’t
understand what she meant until now,” said Don. It’s about being
honest with yourself and understanding that some days are going to
be better than others. It’s releasing the thoughts of death and the
hardships of growing up with the condition. When the stares are
sometimes hard to take and the whispers are no longer whispers,
dealing with the carelessness of others and accepting the laughs and
Immediately follow the days of hospital food and uncomfortable
bedding, Don began research on the condition. The methods of
research have become part of Don’s life.
Within hours of maneuvering the mouse on his computer, Don found
Teeter’s Page which is a family support network for people with
Apert and other craniofacial disorders. The page offers information
and support for families living with the condition. For the Dougan
family it was only a week after Brisa’s birth that they had
scheduled to meet two other families with children diagnosed with
Apert Syndrome. As the dinner came to an end, Melissa loaded Brisa
in her car seat and was unable to contain her emotions.
The cause of Apert Syndrome is still an unknown issue according to
Dr. Jeffrey Fearon, M.D., director of The Craniofacial Center in
Brisa will have a total of three surgeries done this year. The first
was to help separate her fingers and toes which will be followed
with another surgery next month. The second surgery was a cranial
vault. Brisa will have about five years of non surgery before
performing more. Following her surgery in October, Brisa will have
her arms and legs in casts for three weeks to help healing of her
new fingers and toes which will be cut apart. Luckily for Brisa her
fingers already have the appropriate bones.
Melissa explains that the hardest event over the past year was
releasing Brisa to go into surgery. As the room is filled with hugs
and kisses, the thoughts of what could happen begin to spiral as
soon as she leaves the arms of those who love her so much.
With the family support of the Dougan’s who recently moved to Bonham
from Midlothian, Brisa’s future is more than shining.
September has been declared Craniofacial Acceptance Month. The most
recent data shows that in 1 in 65,000 births, a child is born with