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Helping young cleft palate patient feel like a star

10-year-old Mathias Dizon fulfilled a promise to sing the national anthem at the Stanford Children’s Health Cleft and Craniofacial Center's annual patient and family picnic.

There's a line in the movie Wonder, based on the New York Times bestselling book about a boy with a rare craniofacial condition, when his sister tells him:

"You can't blend in when you were born to stand out."

That's 10-year-old Mathias Dizon's favorite part. It's how he lives his life now, too.

As a Stanford Children's Health story on the Healthier, Happy Lives blog explains, Dizon was born with bilateral cleft lip and palate, meaning that both sides of his lip, from his mouth to his nose, were open, along with the roof of his mouth. It was one of the more severe cases that plastic surgeon Rohit Khosla, MD, surgical director of the Stanford Children's Health Cleft and Craniofacial Center, has seen.

Khosla has performed five surgeries for Mathias, beginning when the boy was an infant. As the story reports, the most recent surgery, in 2018, involved taking bone marrow from his hip bone to fill in a gap in his gums. The center has also treated other medical issues related to Mathias' facial condition, including ear infections, hearing loss, dental work and braces.

In June, Mathias sang the national anthem at the center's annual patient and family picnic after practicing for weeks. It was his third time singing at the picnic. Program coordinator/nurse practitioner Elena Hopkins asked him to promise he would do it every year until he goes to college.

"I was so proud to watch him sing. He's a larger-than-life example that kids with craniofacial differences can be performers or anything they want to be," Khosla said.

Mathias especially enjoys Tahitian dancing. (Photo by Doug Peck)

Mathias loves to sing, dance and tell jokes. His mom, Dea Dizon, told Stanford Children's that she credits the medical team with helping to build her son's confidence. Mathias has endured bullying over his facial differences, but in the last year, he has flipped the script by entertaining his classmates instead. As the story explains:

"We couldn't have made him feel that confident on our own. He feels like a superstar when he walks in the center," Dea said. "I am convinced the medical team played a big role in boosting him up. He used to ask, 'Why can't I be like normal kids?' but he doesn't anymore."

Photo (top) of Mathias Dizon and Rohit Khosla by Doug Peck

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