Isabelle Bryant’s transformation has left her parents a bit stunned.
In a good way.
Born with a cleft lip and palate, Isabelle (Issie) underwent multiple surgeries in Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan throughout her young life.
Her most recent operation, performed by Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital pediatric plastic surgeon John Polley, MD, required breaking bones in Issie’s face and installing a rigid external distraction device, a distraction technique Dr. Polley developed that is now used worldwide.
Breaking bones in the facial or skull area triggers the body to grow new bone, which Dr. Polley then manipulates with the halo device into the shape the patient desires.
In Issie’s case, she had a severe underbite, which caused breathing and chewing problems.
“I don’t snore anymore,” the 14-year-old reported at a recent follow-up appointment at Dr. Polley’s office. “You can see my front teeth now and I can eat and chew better.”
After driving eight hours from their southern Illinois home and spending the night in the family’s 36-foot motor home in a Walmart parking lot, the Bryants are excited to be here.
The long-awaited surgery is over. Issie is healing. Her facial features are taking shape before their eyes.
Issie, who loves to shop, swim, shoot guns, text and hang out with friends, is a bit shy sitting on the exam table in Dr. Polley’s office.
Weighing in at 95 pounds with her boots on, she packs more passion and punch than her persona and stature indicate.
“It’s never affected her,” said Issie’s mom, Sandra. “God knew who to give this problem to because she handles it fine. When she was younger, she didn’t even see herself as any different than anybody else. She’s never minded having surgery. We’re blessed in that way.”
While recuperating, Issie didn’t just think of herself. She raised more than $900 for the Smile Train, a New York-based non-profit group that provides free corrective cleft lip and palate surgeries for children in more than 80 countries.
Issie’s results are amazing. She wants the same for others.
But not all has been a smooth transition. In early August, two months into wearing the purple halo that Dr. Polley installed in June, Isabelle and her family encountered a major scare.
The day had started like any other. The family ate breakfast at their farm, chatted and went about their business. Issie’s dad, Brian, mowed the fields. Sandra headed to work. Issie dashed to the barn to lock up the cats so they wouldn’t risk being injured by the mower.
As she pulled the barn door open, a 2-by-10-by-12-foot piece of lumber fell and crashed into her head, bending the halo and jarring her skull.
“She ran into the house and called her mom,” Brian recalled. “Everyone was panicking. The lumber smacked the halo and bent it down.”
The incident accelerated Issie’s halo removal. The family rushed her to a Chicago hospital where doctors removed the halo.
Fortunately for Isabelle, all turned out well.
“Talk about really pretty, look at you,” Dr. Polley said to Issie as he entered the exam room.
Isabelle flashed a wide smile as Sandra and Brian proudly looked on.
“You told us all along, but it was hard to believe,” Sandra said to Dr. Polley. “She looks unbelievably great.”
Dr. Polley measured Issie’s lips, nose and other facial features.
He recommends another surgery next spring or summer to fine-tune her nose and lips.
“I’ll probably do both at the same time,” Dr. Polley said. “For this I may take a little piece of cartilage from here (he points to Issie’s right ribs) and use that for some support. I make a teeny incision in the back and not just lift the nose but build the bridge up, too.”
He said it’s not a risky procedure, won’t hurt much, and will require Issie to only wear a splint on her nose for about five days.
“It’s just a lot of detailing,” he said. “Just a lot of time to get everything exactly set. It doesn’t really hurt afterwards, more like you cut your lip. It stings for 10 minutes. What she went through in terms of wearing the halo—that’s challenging for everyone.”
After next summer’s surgery, there may be one final “touch up” surgery.
“That will be elective, really up to her and you guys,” Dr. Polley told the family. “But she looks great. She’s done great. She’s beautiful.”
Dr. Polley said he would like to see Issie a month prior to her summer surgery date.
He typically takes detailed scans, and can virtually pre-plan and rehearse a surgery from those images.
“I like to take my notes and think about it,” he said.
After shaking the doctor’s hand, Isabelle, Sandra and Brian left the exam room and rode the elevator to the main floor.
They exited the building and climbed into the motor home for the trip home. It will be a happy trip, full of anticipation.
“We’re just excited to get (the next surgery) done,” Sandra said. “We hope it turns out as well as the last one did.”