A $3 million gift is making the most advanced cleft and craniofacial treatment available to Mississippi’s children through the Stephanie and Mitchell Morris Center for Cleft and Craniofacial Research and Innovation at Children’s of Mississippi.
“Many in Mississippi struggle financially, and despite having some of the best medical professionals in the world, Mississippi still has difficulties in being able to provide some of the services that other top hospitals in the nation are able to provide,” Mitchell Morris said. “Children’s of Mississippi is the state’s only hospital and often the only place in the state where children can receive care and treatment for some conditions. Stephanie and I want that care to be the best possible and accessible to as many Mississippi children as possible.”
The gift will fund the purchase of endoscopes to perform minimally invasive surgical procedures to treat craniosynostosis in babies. Endoscopic strip craniectomies remove a fused suture in babies. Fused sutures are joints in the bone plates of the skull that have grown together. Normally, these sutures are not fused to allow for brain growth.
Endoscopes, thin lighted tubes with cameras and surgical tools attached, allow for surgical treatment with much smaller incisions, giving children a less-invasive treatment and a faster recovery.
An endowment will be created to support the center and its research and care, and a genetic counselor will spend more time seeing patients of the Craniofacial Team, which, like the Cleft Team at Children’s of Mississippi, is the only such program in the state with accreditation from the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association.
ACPA certification requires access to a multidisciplinary team including surgeons, psychologists, dentists, audiologists, ophthalmologists, social workers, geneticists and genetic counselors, speech therapists and orthodontists.
In the U.S., about 7,000 babies are born with cleft lips and/or cleft palates each year. Craniosynostosis, one of the most common craniofacial conditions, affects one in every 2,500 births.
The Morris family gift includes funding for an annual event for children who experience cleft or craniofacial differences.
“This will be an event for Children’s of Mississippi to give those kids the chance to meet other kids who are going through the same experiences. We want these children not to feel stigmatized for their differences but to be celebrated for them,” Morris said. “That part is important to me.”
Dr. Ian Hoppe, surgeon-in-chief and leader of the cleft and craniofacial teams at Children’s of Mississippi, said the creation of the Center for Cleft and Craniofacial Research and Innovation will transform care.
“The incredible generosity of Stephanie and Mitchell Morris is the catalyst for significant surgical advancements for our patients,” Hoppe said. “Their gift will help children today and give Children’s of Mississippi programs and technologies we can build upon to see continued improvements in cleft and craniofacial care in the future.”
Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair and professor of pediatrics, said the gift creating the Stephanie and Mitchell Morris Center for Cleft and Craniofacial within the children’s hospital’s facilities inside the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower and Blair E. Batson Tower will advance the care as well as research and education.
“This center will also fuel research into cleft and craniofacial care and will provide training opportunities for the next generation of cleft and craniofacial experts,” she said. “We are so grateful to Stephanie and Mitchell Morris for their philanthropy and concern for Mississippi’s children.”
Morris said he and his wife want to see the best care for children close to home.
“The Center for Cleft and Craniofacial Research and Innovation won’t satisfy all needs,” Morris said, “but we hope it can at least help satisfy the needs of children with craniofacial and cleft palate issues. We have seen others make great and small contributions to Children’s of Mississippi, and we have been inspired by those gifts. Stephanie and I hope this gift similarly inspires others to consider giving to Children’s of Mississippi.”
By Annie Oeth, UMMC Public Affairs