Morgan Corwin and her twin sister, Victoria, share identical genes, birthdays and surgery dates.

Both were born with cleft lip and palate and they have followed the same surgical track—cleft lip repair at 6 months old and bone grafts to fill the clefts in their gum lines at age 9.

But just this year, at age 17, Morgan journeyed down a surgical path of her own with John Girotto, MD, and John Polley, MD, Spectrum Health Medical Group pediatric plastic surgeons at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

With her long, blonde hair wrapped in an Elsa-style braid swooped to the side, Morgan was headed on her own adventure.

‘A long day’

“The right side (of Morgan’s face and jaw) was not growing as fast as the left side,” said Morgan’s mom, Jill. “It hasn’t really grown at the same rate ever and it created a very crooked jaw on top and bottom.”

Over the last couple of months, symptoms flared. Morgan began to realize that her jaw issues could lead to lifelong problems.

“We knew it was a medical issue,” Jill continued. “The joints were not lining up properly and her bite was not proper. The last couple of months, she had jaw pain when she would chew gum or eat certain foods. She realized it would only get worse over the next several years.”

During an eight-hour surgery, Dr. Polley and Dr. Girotto took a piece of bone from Morgan’s skull to reconstruct her lower jaw. The upper jaw was then leveled and advanced to match, creating a stable, symmetric bite and face.

“It’s been a long day,” Jill said after surgery, sitting with her daughter in the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital pediatric intensive care unit. “One of our pastors came and prayed with us in the morning before surgery. She really liked that. She definitely felt the love.”

Results ‘clearly apparent’

Even when Morgan was fresh out of surgery, Jill said she noticed a dramatic difference in her daughter’s appearance.

“Her chin was out to where it should have been,” Jill said. “Her face looks very symmetrical now. Even with the swelling, I can notice a difference. I’m sure as things heal, it will be even better.”

Several weeks after surgery, Morgan is healing nicely and recovering at home in Traverse City.

“She is in great spirits,” Jill said. “She is resting a lot and has a hard time with not being able to talk as much as she would like to.”

Dr. Polley removed some of the rubber bands that held her mouth shut so she’s been able to eat soft food again.

“This has helped her feel better, being able to eat food that is not just through a straw,” Jill said. “She can now eat cooked noodles and mashed potatoes and such.”

Morgan’s twin, Victoria (Tori), said it feels odd to not share a surgery with her sister.

“It was a lot different not having surgery with her because then I wasn’t with her the whole time and I had to watch her go through all that pain without me,” Tori said. “It was a little weird because we’ve always done these things together.”

Sister-to-sister, Tori gives Morgan’s surgical results a resounding thumbs up.

“I think it makes her look more beautiful,” Tori said. “I’m very grateful that she was able to get everything fixed, so she wouldn’t be in any pain.”

Dr. Girotto said the change is amazing.

“Morgan is doing great,” Dr. Girotto said. “The transformation in her facial symmetry is dramatic. Re-positioning her facial skeleton even changes the soft tissue position—you would think that we straightened her nose, but it was from re-constructing her skeleton.”

Orthodontic treatment will fine-tune her occlusion and dental alignment.

“The last bit of swelling will be around for a few months, but the early results are clearly apparent,” Dr. Girotto said.

‘It’ll be even better’

Morgan has played the part of a trooper most of her life.

Besides a cleft lip and palate and the malformed jaw, she was born with her heart in the right side of her chest, which happens to about 1 in 10,000 babies, according to Dr. Girotto.

But Morgan’s heart has always been in the right place, and her challenges haven’t stopped her from being on the varsity basketball team at her Northern Michigan high school. She’ll resume sports in late October.

Morgan also was born without a radius bone in her right arm. The span from her elbow to her hand is only about 4 inches. She’s also missing the thumb on her right hand.

“She loves to be active,” Jill said. “She’s a very determined person. She dribbles left-handed and uses her right hand to assist. She doesn’t let anything stop her. She’s competitive with her twin sister so if her sister can do it, she’s going to figure out a way to do it.”

Morgan also plays in her high school concert band.

“She plays the trumpet left-handed even though it’s a right-handed instrument,” Jill said. “She’ll have to not play trumpet for a while because of the surgery. She is bummed to not be able to do trumpet yet, but she knew that going into this.”

Jill said the medical expertise is worth traveling for.

“Everyone has been really wonderful with her care,” she said. “It’s been the best experience it could be.”