Published: Feb. 14, 2011
Updated: Feb. 14, 2011
Ashley Christian’s journey to the Duke Cleft and Craniofacial team began at a mall.
Eighteen years ago, Ashley’s mother Jeanie was sitting with baby Ashley during a shopping trip when a woman Jeanie didn’t know approached, held out a piece of paper, and said, “My son was born like that. Call me if you would like to know anything about this birth defect.”
When they finally spoke a week later, the woman told Jeanie, “The team at Duke can help.”
Over the next 18 years, the Christians, including father Jackie and son Tyler, traveled the four and a half hours from Kingsport, TN, to Durham, NC, over 40 times so Ashley could be treated by the Duke Cleft and Craniofacial team.
The Christians would visit the full team one Wednesday each summer and make other trips as needed. Ashley had seven surgeries -- the first, to close her lip, at 11 weeks and the last, a bone graft, this year.
“We were so happy, we never left,” Jeanie Christian says of Duke.
Ashley has handled the laborious 18-year process with grace, once declining a doctor’s offer to make her a retainer with false teeth to hide missing ones.
“I told him, ‘God made me this way for a reason. I don’t need that to be myself,’” she says.
Ashley says she learned persistence from the team she calls her “surrogate family.”
“They take care of you because they want to see you get better and get to that finish line,” she says.
Ashley, now a freshman at Centre College in Danville, KY, is studying to become a doctor -- a craniofacial surgeon to be exact. She aspires to work with a cleft team, like the one at Duke, and with Operation Smile, an organization dedicated to fixing cleft conditions for kids all over the world.
“The way they work together and reached out to me at Duke, that’s why I want to be a craniofacial surgeon,” Ashley says.
“If they can relate to me without ever having a cleft, how much could I relate to a child who does? My life story could show them the miracles that cleft teams, like the one at Duke, can perform.”