A new smile for Pancho


During a routine ultrasound at 20 weeks, Zeb Stecker and his wife were shocked to learn their growing baby had a bi-lateral cleft lip. At their home in Reno, the couple spent the following weeks worried and wondering how they would care for a baby with this condition – which occurs when tissues of the mouth or lip don’t form properly when a baby is developing in the womb.

Already overwhelmed, they received a second surprise when baby Francisco – aka Pancho – was born nearly two months early. Their local hospital team stabilized Pancho followed by a long hospital stay.

“While the 40 days of Neo Natal Intensive Care (NICU) near our home saved his life, the hospital was not equipped to address his special needs as a cleft lip and palate baby,” explained Zeb. “There are just not enough babies born in our area to warrant specialists.”

Zeb said their search for help was over when they researched the work being done by the Cleft and Craniofacial team at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

“When we got to Palo Alto for the first time, the waiting room was filled with parents just like us, with cleft babies, parents of cleft babies, and smiles for one another,” said Zeb. “My wife cried joyful tears.”

Over the course of 6 months they would made about 13 journeys from Reno to Palo Alto – each of which was a 12-hour, 1-day round trip.

Rohit K. Khosla, MD, surgical director of the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Cleft & Craniofacial Center, said “Zeb and Mariangeles Stecker are very passionate and dedicated parents. I admire their resilience and commitment to travel so far from home to have Pancho treated here.”

Dr. Khosla and the craniofacial team helped the family understand it would be a long and arduous journey, but continues to support the family every step of the way toward the eventual reconstructive outcome. Typical of most craniofacial patients, Pancho’s journey is not over as he is still a growing boy. He will need a few more surgeries over the years as his facial features mature.

“We are thankful for the combination of a dedicated team of expert doctors, nurses, and specialists as we continue on,” said Zeb. “Right now there is a family somewhere feeling lost, alone and confused … but an incredible team at Packard Children’s is there for families, just as they are for mine. They change lives.”

“Pancho is such a tough and spirited child with a wonderful disposition, which I can see he inherits from his parents,” said Dr. Khosla.  “I am honored that Zeb and Mariangeles have put their faith in me and our team to take care of their son.  I look forward to seeing Pancho grow up.”


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