The Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Team at Studer Family Children’s Hospital

We have partnered with Ascension Sacred Heart to bring relevant and important information to Pensacola Mom Collective readers through this sponsored post.


Inhaling the sweet smell of her baby’s newness, a young mother cradles her baby’s head in the crook of her neck. Her hand moves up, pausing for a few seconds on those sweet neck wrinkles. His head fits satisfyingly in her palm. When her hand finds a hard ridge along his scalp, she follows it softly with her fingertips. 

As a first-time mama, she’s trying hard not to be an alarmist, but she doesn’t recall this detail from the blur of days following the hospital. She makes a mental note to say something to the pediatrician at their one-month well check. 

Of the several infancy-presenting maxillofacial and cranial abnormalities, Craniosynostosis, or the premature fusion of the bones of the skull, requires the attention not only of the pediatrician but most likely the care and guidance of a craniofacial surgeon. 

Local families and pediatricians alike might assume that such a condition would require a desperate scramble for resources at a specialty center out of town, when in fact, Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart has a nationally approved Cleft Palate and Craniofacial team right here in Pensacola. 

Dr. Aaron Wallender, MD, DDS

Led by Dr. Aaron Wallender, the Cleft Palate and Craniofacial team at Studer Family Children’s Hospital is a cross-specialty team offering comprehensive pediatric craniofacial care in the treatment of cleft palates and other face and head malformations.  

Dr. Wallender and his team provide local access to quality care for medical needs that previously required going out of town — a local team connected to a local hospital with connections to local pediatricians.

The American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association (ACPA) recognizes the group as a cross-specialty team. Studer Family Children’s Hospital is one of only six programs in Florida — and the only program of its kind in Northwest Florida — to receive this level of national approval, which evaluates a center’s coordination of care, medical staff, the complexity of treated cases, and patient outcomes.

Working with the head, face, and neck in young children can require a full team of care. This includes pediatric dentists and orthodontists; the pediatricians, who monitor growth and development; social workers, who provide connections to vital services outside the hospital; an ear, nose, and throat doctor; pulmonologists, who help with sleep and breathing problems; audiologists, who assist with hearing problems; speech and language pathologist; dieticians, who help with nutrition and feeding; and a team coordinator who oversees the group of caregivers and works directly with the families.

Cleft abnormalities, affecting the lips, nose, bones, and teeth of the upper jaw, occur in one in 600 births and require immediate attention for assistance with feeding and nutrition.

Surgery and other treatments can improve the function and appearance in these cases, and being able to do so locally removes the added burden to families that travel can create. 

Dr. Wallender emphasizes that the patient care equivalent to national standards for these issues is available here locally. In addition, the quality offered by our local team can be even higher when adjusted for the added benefit of local connection and familiarity with the patients. 

The team at Ascension Sacred Heart comes to their work with a genuine passion for the families they serve. 

Dr. Wallender engaging with a young patient. This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and requirements for masking in healthcare settings. © Cortlandt Glover

“I was drawn to the cleft and craniofacial field because I liked the idea of being a part of a child’s life from birth to adulthood. Not only do we get to be a part of an instant, life-changing transformation at surgery in childhood, which is so satisfying,” Dr. Wallender shared, “but we also see the long-term positive effects on the child and the family. This brings my team and me a lot of joy.”

For more information about Dr. Wallender and the full team professionals at the Cleft Palate and Craniofacial program at Studer Family Children’s Hospital, visit the Ascension Sacred Heart website or contact the office directly at 850-416-7535. 


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