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Frankie's story

Finding the positive in a difficult time

Monday, August 10, 2020
Frankie and his father

The world today is different because of the COVID-19 pandemic; very little is untouched by the ripple effect of the virus. Beyond the devastating impact on those stricken and their caretakers, COVID-19 has made nearly every aspect of life more difficult. It seems almost impossible that something positive could come from such global negativity. Sometimes though, finding “the good” simply requires a shift in one’s point of view. The caring staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Cincinnati found it with a boy named Francis. 

“Frankie,” as he is known by the staff, is from Nigeria. He was born with a severe cleft palate, affecting his ability to speak, eat and even breathe. Frankie came to the attention of Save a Child International, a nonprofit organization founded by a group of Nigerian doctors in Atlanta, Georgia. The group’s goal is to enable some of Africa’s poor children to gain access to quality health care in the United States. One of the doctors attended a seminar presented by Debbie Harrell, MSN, RN, NE-BC, director of professional relations at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital, where he learned of the hospital staff's exceptional skill in the treatment of cleft lip and palate, and its mission of caring for children regardless of a family’s ability to pay. In the fall of 2019, his organization arranged for Frankie and his father to travel to Cincinnati. 

During their stay, the two lived in one of the hospital’s “family care units,” the motel-like rooms within the hospital. Frankie became the patient of Christopher Gordon, M.D., FACS, FAAP, a board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes in craniofacial disorders such as cleft lip and palate. “Frankie’s cleft palate was one of the most severe I have ever seen,” Dr. Gordon said.

Plans were for the father and son to remain at the hospital for six months, the longest a travel visa would permit. Everyone wanted to make sure Frankie could benefit from as much care as possible before returning to Nigeria. During that period, Frankie had three successful surgeries to repair his palate. Now it was time to go home.

Unfortunately, at the same time, COVID-19 was rapidly spreading across the globe. International travel came to a screeching halt, and Frankie and his father had to stay in the U.S.

Luckily, they were at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital, so there was never a worry about where to stay or how to survive during this period of uncertainty. Frankie and his father could remain guests of the hospital until the travel ban lifted.

The unexpected upshot was that now Frankie had the time to receive speech therapy – a luxury not possible without the pandemic delay. He worked regularly with the Cincinnati Shriners’ occupational and physical therapy department, improving the skills his disorder had prevented for most of his life.

Even the darkest days can offer a moment of light. In Frankie’s case, the COVID-19 travel ban allowed him to remain at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital and fully benefit from its many life-changing services before returning home.