Athena's World

Submitted by Toby Herman -

Athena Herman is a cleft affected teenager who loves working with children and lets nothing stand in the way of her fun. In this candid three-part article, Athena and her parents share personal experiences and talk about the trials and triumphs of a child growing up with a facial anomaly.

Athena's World - Part 1

At age thirteen, a girl has a lot of important things to worry about, like; friends, school work, friends, homework, and friends. Oh, did I mention friends? I swear I don't know how she keeps track of them all!

Athena is a bright girl, who listens to music and uses computers, and loves to make new friends. She has even been known to do all three of these things simultaneously (talk about multi-tasking). She is the kind of person who is just fun to be around. Witty, outgoing, and always has a smile on her face. Responsible and trustworthy, but never taking anything too seriously.

Athena was born with a severe bi-lateral cleft pallet and upper lip. Neither of us (her parents) knew anything about this type of birth defect at the time and were not expecting any problems. It came as quite a shock at first, but we were somewhat relieved soon there after to learn that her condition was quite common and repairable.


The only immediate problem caused by her birth defect was with feeding; she required a special nipple (supplied by FCCN) in order to eat. She was only twelve days old when we first met with the medical team.

We always talked to Athena in cute voices and made up silly names. One of her original silly names was; Lumpy. It brings a smile to all of our faces every time we hear it. Believe it or not, we still call her that (in a cute voice) once in a while.

When asked if her baby picture could be used for the FCCN website, Athena replied "Yeah! I love that picture!" It was taken before she had any work done on her lip and gum, and shows how happy and cute she was despite the severity of her facial anomaly.

Before long they began procedures to align Athena's gum and close her upper lip. Once that was done, they were able to begin working on her palate. The doctors were confident and explained to us what each step would entail. There are always risks when surgeries are involved, but beyond that we did not know what to expect.

Trepidation is the perfect word to summarize our feelings during these early stages. Even though they had a plan of action, it was hard for us to visualize the changes. We were both a little nervous and apprehensive.

Each of the early operations brought about major changes in Athena's appearance. I admit, it was hard (for me) to come to terms with some of those changes at first, but it didn't take long for me to realize that all of the changes were undeniably for the better.

We were amazed how quickly and smoothly everything went, and before we knew it, Athena was out the door and on her way home. With lots of love and support from her family and friends, she was quick to recover.