A chance visit to a local animal shelter leads one Mott Children’s patient family to the perfect pet match for their 2-year-old son.
When two-year-old Bentley Boyers looks at his baby pictures taken before surgeries to repair his cleft lip, he notices the "boo-boo" on his mouth.
And then he points to his new puppy: "Lacey has the same boo-boo."
His family says it was fate when a visit to their community animal shelter in Jackson County led them to the black and white retriever mix who was born with two different colored eyes (black and blue) – and a cleft lip and palate. The shelter staff was worried that the dog would have a hard time getting adopted.
But then Brandon Boyers walked in. He wasn't looking for a dog, but for rescued chickens to expand the family's small farm. Instead, he came across Lacey, immediately FaceTiming his wife Ashley to show her the puppy with the same craniofacial anomaly as their son.
"You have to get her," Ashley told him.
And Bentley and his new dog "instantly fell in love" with each other.
"As soon as he saw her he was saying 'it's my puppy, I love her,' and was kissing her and hugging her. She was licking him. It was like it was meant to be," Ashley says.
"Throughout his life he will have this little companion who has gone through the same thing and can be there to support him," she adds. "For him to understand that they have this in common will really mean a lot to him."
About 1 in 2,800 babies is born with cleft lip in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The facial anomaly develops early in pregnancy, leading to a gap in the lip when the tissue in the mouth does not join together properly.
In Bentley's case, this separation extended beyond the base of the nose and through the upper gum line, called alveolus.
Before his first birthday, Bentley underwent two surgeries to repair his cleft lip, which were performed by Christian Vercler, M.D., a plastic surgeon with the Craniofacial Anomalies Program at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. The procedures involved carefully bringing the skin, muscles, and lining of the mouth together, recreating the anatomy of the upper lip and reshaping the nose to be more symmetrical.
Lacey has also undergone surgery to fix her cleft palate.
"Bentley's journey was difficult for many reasons and the Mott team, from the nurses to doctors, were there for us. It means the world to me," Ashley says. "We love everyone there."
Bentley will continue care with the Craniofacial Anomalies Program at Mott that includes a team of plastic surgeons, oral surgeons, speech pathologists, pediatric dentists, orthodontists, audiologists, neuropsychologists, dietitians, pediatric nurse practitioners and social workers.
When he's older and starts losing his baby teeth, he will also need an operation to reconstruct his gum line where he's missing bone. His surgeon will take bone from his hip and put it in the cleft area to support his adult teeth.
His Mott care team says they were happy to hear about Bentley's new furry friend, as his story has been shared in news outlets across the country, including the Washington Post. Good Morning America has also reached out to the Boyers.
"It's just amazing that his family adopted a puppy with the same thing he has," Vercler says. "We find that children do really well when they own and understand their diagnosis, know how to talk about it, and are a part of their own care.
"It's great to hear that a new pet is helping Bentley understand what's going on with him, showing him that he's not alone, and that even cute puppies can have this. Having a cleft lip doesn't need to hold you back."
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