Not long after Peyton Chandler was born in Presque Isle on May 5, 2010, a Shrine clown called his parents, Janie and Derrick Chandler of Mapleton.
That phone call made all the difference for Peyton, who was born with a cleft lip and palate.
Mapleton resident Peter Burlock had heard about Peyton’s condition; Peter is the husband of Carla Burlock, the Chandlers’ day-care provider. Playing Anah Shrine clown “Digby,” he appears each spring at the Anah Shrine Circus in Presque Isle. He “called us and said, ‘I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Shriners treat children with cleft lips and palates,’” Janie Chandler recalled.
Peter gave the Chandlers an application that they completed and faxed to the Shrine Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Mass. A staffer “called me back in just a few days” and arranged an appointment for the Chandlers to bring Peyton to a clinic at the Springfield hospital, said Janie, who works at The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle.
Shriners also placed the Chandlers in touch with Angel Flight; when Peyton was 6 weeks old, he and his parents flew in a six-passenger Beechcraft from Presque Isle to Springfield. The volunteer pilot “had a child born 30 years ago with a cleft lip and palate,” Janie said.
A Shrine courtesy van whisked the Chandlers from the airport to the hospital. The next day, at a monthly clinic held for children with cleft lips and palates, “we saw a team of specialists,” Janie said. Led by plastic surgeon Dr. Phillip Stoddard, M.D., the team included an ENT, a geneticist, a dentist, a nutritionist, and a speech therapist; an orthodontist and a physical therapist would join the team when Peyton was a little older.
Team members assessed Peyton and other children. “After the clinic, they all met and talked about each patient and made a plan of attack” for each child, Derrick said. He is employed at Porter Farms in Washburn.
Believing that Peyton was receiving insufficient formula from his nursing bottle, the nutritionist recommended that his parents use a Mead-Johnson Feeder, designed for children with cleft lips and palates.
Angel Flight flew the Chandlers home the next day.
The family drove to Springfield in October 2010; while Peyton underwent corrective surgery, his parents stayed seven days at a local hotel that “offered Shriner rates,” Janie said. “We could have stayed at a family room in the hospital, but we decided not to.”
The two-hour surgery closed Peyton’s lip. The Chandlers returned to Springfield for a follow-up visit three months later, and in October 2011 Peyton underwent surgery to close his palate and place tubes in his ears. When he is approximately 7 years old, he will undergo a bone graft to place a bone in his palate.
And he already has his teeth; “his bottom teeth are perfect,” Janie said. “Now he drinks through a straw. He speaks a lot.”
According to Derrick, the Chandlers return to the Springfield hospital “every six months just for follow-ups.” A speech therapist based there communicates with Peyton’s speech therapist in Presque Isle to monitor the boy’s progress.
The Chandlers’ health insurance has covered Peyton’s medical care; the Shrine hospital provides services to families regardless of their insurance coverage or ability to pay. The Anah Shrine Sunshine Club provides funds to cover the travel and hotel costs incurred by families traveling to a Shrine hospital; the Chandlers utilized this service to pay for two nights’ stay in Springfield during Peyton’s first surgery and to supplement travel costs for his follow-up appointment.
As his mom and dad talked about him, Peyton occasionally joined in the conversation between time spent running around outdoors with his 5-year-old brother, Ryder. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, Peyton laughed and chatted as he enjoyed a beautiful summer morning.
“He’s a very, very happy kid, very outgoing,” Derrick said.
“He’s very social,” Janie said. “He’ll probably never remember it (his first two surgeries) except for the photos I’ve taken” and the light scar that he will always have.
“He has no other health concerns,” Janie said.
The Chandlers praised the staff members at the Springfield hospital for “the excellent care” that Peyton has received. “We are forever grateful for what they have done. They have changed our son’s life,” Janie said. “The staff is the most amazing, [and] knowledgeable.”
“To see the facility down at Springfield, it’s beautiful, gates and secured with 24-hour security,” she said. “They have a beautiful play area for the kids.”
The Shrine is “a very great organization,” Derrick said. “We’re very happy with everything they’ve done.”