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Alternative Treatments in Preparation for Surgery and After Care for the
Cleft Affected Child

by Leigh Austin

Please be advised that the ideas and treatments expressed here should be confirmed by your doctor prior to use, and pregnant or lactating women are strongly advised not to take or perform any treatment unless prescribed for you by your physician or a licensed Naturopathic doctor.

In every culture throughout the world you will find a great body of folklore concerning the indigenous plants of that region and the peoples who used them. For thousands of years women collected plants from meadows and woodlands and used them to create healing medicines. Although the use of herbs as a healing art began to die out in the 15th century, recently herbalism has begun to surface again. Herbalism and Allopathic, or modern, medicine are often seen as the antithesis of one another, and people assume that they are incompatible. On the contrary, the two systems of medicine can work very effectively together and do, in fact, complement one another. Representative of male and female energies, Yin and Yang, or right and left brain, they have much to learn from each other, but both are needed for harmonious balance. Working in synergy, the two sciences or arts can enhance our possibilities for well-being. Though some of the most powerful herbs should not be used with chemical drugs, most herbs do not interfere with the action of them and can be used to augment allopathic treatments. While chemical drugs are actively killing bacteria and viruses, herbal medicines build and restore the system. Chemical drugs generally have a specific agenda, while herbs, through a complex biochemical process, take the whole person into consideration and replenish and strengthen the body on a cellular level.

As a preventative medicine, herbs are inimitable. They build and strengthen the body’s natural immunity and defense mechanisms. They nourish the deep inner ecology of our systems on a cellular level. Our bodies are comfortable with herbs; they recognize them and efficiently utilize them. While modern medicine provides symptomatic relief, herbs often provide the impetus for lasting change.

In this paper I suggest possible herbal treatments for the child preparing for surgery, and the cleft-affected child. What I will also stress is that herbal medicine, and aromatherapy, have an essentially holistic nature. Herbal medicine is holistic in two ways - first, plant medicines are themselves essentially holistic, and second, herbalists treat people holistically, taking the whole being of the patient into consideration (diet, activity and stress levels, etc.), rather than just prescribing according to a specific disease. All traditional systems of herbal medicine share the perception of disease as an imbalance or disharmony of the whole. Disease is not seen as an entity to be attacked, confronted or eradicated. Instead, herbalists seek to resolve underlying imbalances, and thereby resolving the disease itself. Natural healing is founded on the basic principle that the human organism possesses the inherent ability to protect, regulate, adjust, and heal itself, and supplementing with herbs is more a balancing treatment for the body than symptomatic relief.

So, having said that, I will now get on with the business at hand.

Preparation for Surgery

Surgery can be traumatic on our bodies, and our children’s bodies. We should prepare them to be as strong as they can be, boosting the immune system and supplementing minerals that will help strengthen the heart and vascular systems. Proper nutrition is of course tremendously important, and diet should be monitored for the older child to make every meal count. For the infant, the supplements that I have listed below will provide more than adequate nutrition in tandem with breast milk or formula. There are two herbs I strongly recommend to be taken every day for a period of 10 days to two weeks prior to surgery, and continuing up to three weeks post. These herbs are:

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea):
Echinacea is renowned for its ability to boost the immune system, cleanse the blood, and produce white blood cells. Tremendously valued by Native Americans, it became a famed remedy for snakebite, and cleansing wounds. Research has shown that it stimulates the production of white blood cells, which fight infection, and that some of the chemical constituents have anti-viral properties. You can purchase many forms of Echinacea in your local health food stores, including capsules, tinctures, dried herb, and tea. Tinctures are by far the easiest way to help a young child or infant take supplements.

Wheatgrass Juice:
Juice pressed from young wheat plants, Wheatgrass is becoming very widely used as its benefits become known. Wheatgrass helps to strengthen the immune system, detoxify the blood, promote circulation, stimulate digestion, and chemically neutralize pollutants and toxins in the body. Wheatgrass is rich in Vitamins A, B, C, and E which will provide you with all of the carotene, and antioxidants that our bodies need on a daily basis. Antioxidants protect the heart, and speed healing of wounds and infections. Wheatgrass is also rich in Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Iron and has small amounts of Sodium. Wheatgrass also contains a large amount of chlorophyll, which increases function of the heart, vascular system and intestines, and strengthens the cells. You can find wheatgrass at any local juice or smoothie bar, and some health food stores. For best results, use live wheatgrass, freshly juiced.

Adults need only 4 ounces a day, so children need only ˝ to 1 ounce. "Okay, so that is all great information, but how can I get my baby to eat it?" Prepare a fruit and yogurt (or milk) smoothie, with orange juice, ice, banana and any fresh fruit the child will eat. Add supplements and blend until smooth. Mix supplements with a juice blend like orange banana-pineapple, pour into ice trays, cover with plastic wrap and poke with toothpicks to make popsicles. Or, using a medicine dropper, give the herbs as medicine, and wash down with juice. Most kids won’t ask for the taste of wheatgrass or herbs, but they will not become sick from it either. For babies, it might help to warm it just a bit.

For babies and children who need help being soothed and calmed, Valerian is an excellent remedy for anxiety, nervous tension, and has sedative properties. It has a strengthening action on the heart, and some of the chemical constituents are antispasmodic, and thus useful for treating any kind of cramp (stomach, bowel, menstrual). It will help to promote restful sleep. You can purchase caplets, tinctures and tea in health food stores. Alternatively, Hops is also very calming and soothing on the central nervous system, and again, you can find it in health food stores. Most health food stores will also have several brands of special blends specifically for a purpose such as calming and soothing. Many of these blends work very well, and most contain either Hops, Valerian or both.

After Care

After surgery, it is important to maintain supplement of wheatgrass and Echinacea for about two weeks. For an older child or adult, it is also a good idea to introduce Garlic in smaller quantities, as it possesses many anti viral and infection fighting properties. Should infection become a possibility, treat with Goldenseal and another round of Echinacea. (Consult your doctor at the first sign of infection).

Surface treatments are also very important to the recovery and healing of the skin, particularly of interest to the cleft-affected child. The herbs listed below that I recommend have not only been researched by scientists, but have been successfully tried with excellent results, on my own son who was born cleft-affected. Massage to the suture area two to three times a day, once the stitches have dissolved, will help to promote circulation, cell rejuvenation, and adhesion and reduce inflammatory build up of scar tissue.

Witch Hazel:
In place of the peroxide solution generally given to parents by the hospital, I used Witch hazel to cleanse my son’s sutures every day. Applied with a sterile cotton swab, using the rolling motion down along the suture line, witch hazel will cleanse the area very well and provide other lasting benefits. Witch hazel has astringent properties which help to control swelling, and it promotes the healing of wounds.

Calendula Oil:
More commonly known as Marigold, Calendula has many wound healing properties. It is antiseptic and antibacterial, promoting healing for many skin irritations. Use this as a base for any aromatherapy preparations, on baby wipes, and for massage, and to treat diaper rash. A compress of Calendula is excellent first aid for burns, stings, scalds and impetigo. I recommend using Calendula as a base for a blend of oils to be massaged on the suture line, once it has begun to heal.

One of our best loved scented herbs, Lavender is also one of the best remedies for skin problems. Strongly antibacterial, lavender is a wonderful remedy for burns, stings, scars, and cuts. Blended with Calendula, lavender
makes a powerful treatment for diaper rash. Lavender should always be kept in the cupboard of anyone with children. It has a relaxing and calming affect on children and helps to promote sleep. Blended with a carrier oil such as Soya, almond, jojoba or Calendula, it can be used in the bath at bedtime or a drop on the pillow of the child’s bed, it will calm the most active child and help them to sleep. Essential oil of lavender is very concentrated, and should never be used on children without first diluting it in a carrier base.

Comfrey is one of the most famed healing plants. Its remarkable power to heal tissue and bone is due to one of its chemical constituents, allantoin, a cell-proliferant that promotes the growth of connective tissue, bone and cartilage, and is easily absorbed through the skin. Recent American research has also shown that Comfrey breaks down red blood cells, a finding that supports its use for bruises, and varicose veins. Blended with Calendula oil, it will provide a powerful treatment to the healing scar. There is a product on the market that blends jojoba oil, Calendula, Comfrey,
vitamin A and E with many other healing essential oils. It is called Miraculous Beauty Replenisher, and is manufactured by a beauty product line called Aveda. You can purchase MBR, and other Aveda products at a beauty salon that carries them. This is the product that I used on my son’s scar, with tremendous results. (As an added bonus, I can use it on myself to prevent the formation of those unsightly lines around the eyes, and stretch marks!)

Chamomile is a remedy for broad complaints. Chamomile relieves pain, encourages wound healing, is anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic. Inherently, it possesses anti-fungal, and anti-microbial properties. Used as an oil, it will help to heal a burn or speed recovery of any other skin condition. It will help to promote sleep, and has a sedative action in tea form. Chamomile is another herb that should always be kept in the medicine chest of a family with children. Chamomile is regarded as ‘the children’s oil’ because of its very gentle nature, absence of toxicity, and appropriateness to many childhood and infant problems - such as teething, rashes, earaches, colic and tummy upsets. As with lavender, chamomile oil should be diluted before using it on a child and never give it by mouth. There are homeopathic remedies that make chamomile available in pill form to treat many of the aforementioned problems.

Lemon Balm (or Melissa) Oil:
Used as an aromatherapy remedy, this oil is revered for its ability to calm, soothe and dispel depression. The volatile oils in this plant have a sedative effect, even in minute concentrations. Melissa has been used for centuries to strengthen the heart and lift the spirits. Used best in a bath or in massage with children, Melissa can soothe the violent and hyperactive child, calm the nervous child before surgery, or lift the spirits of the depressed adult.

I hope you will all have wonderful luck and find the value and enjoyment of using herbs and alternative treatments as I have. Please know that there are many more effective alternative treatments, I have only stated a few that are absolutely necessary for the preparation and after care for our children.

-------Leigh Austin lives in Castro Valley, California.

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