Providing compassionate care for children with cleft lip and palate Irmina Flores, RN, BSN

Adventist Health White Memorial is one of only four hospitals in Southern California to treat cleft lip or palate at no cost to patients. Since 1980, more than 6,000 infants, children and adults have received this much-needed specialized care.

Irmina Flores, RN, BSNUnder the compassionate guidance of Cleft Palate Program Medical Director Alan Perry Jr., MD, our dedicated team of healthcare professionals offers a comprehensive continuum of care from infancy to early adulthood.

For 25 years, Irmina Flores, RN, BSN has helped lead the Cleft Palate Program, first as Nurse Coordinator and now as Supervisor. Originally from Malolos, in the province of Bulacan, Philippines, Flores always had a desire to help people. So when her older sister, Leonife Cuaresma, became a nurse and traveled to the United States, Flores followed in her footsteps.

In August 1981, Flores traveled to Chicago to work at Roseland Community Hospital. After one year, she moved to Northern California to work at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center and Highland Hospital, refining her nursing skills by working in neonatal intensive care, pediatrics, oncology, burn, hospice and surgery.

In May 1987, Flores moved to Southern California and joined Adventist Health White Memorial’s neonatal intensive care unit, where she quickly distinguished herself as a person who never settled or quit when work was challenging. As a result, in October 1998, she was invited to work in the Cleft Palate Program as the Nurse Coordinator.

At that time, there were roughly 70 patients receiving care. Today, there are 400 patients actively receiving treatment, with approximately 1,500 outpatient visits and 85 life-changing surgeries performed annually. Flores was crucial to the program’s growth and success.

As part of her clinical and administrative duties, Flores receives referrals from hospitals, swiftly contacts the families, and visits them to provide crucial feeding instructions. Post-discharge, she schedules prompt follow-up appointments with the families at our Rainbow Center to ensure quality and consistent care. Additionally, she offers emotional support to parents who often struggle to cope with their child’s condition.

Cleft palate patients are given a rigorous, long-term care plan from infancy to adulthood. Newborns with cleft lip and palate undergo weight monitoring to reach at least 10 pounds for the initial surgery. Subsequent check-ups every six months to a year involve hearing tests and infection prevention. Between 8 and 12 years old, patients undergo complex bone grafting in the gum area using bone from the hip. Flores and her team constantly evaluate physical, mental and psychological development, including speech. Social workers are even involved to address bullying and mental health. Finally, from 12 to 21 years old, care focuses on fine-tuning speech through therapy or surgery and possibly reconstructing the nose. By 21, a successful journey yields well-adjusted individuals with rectified facial structures and speech.

Children with cleft palates

 

“It is a mission to me that I am able to be of good help to anyone,” Flores said when asked about her career.  “This is the only job where you see the baby grow up to be a 21-year-old adult, and I’m still taking care of them. Not only those patients but the needs of their families. It’s like having another family.”

Flores retires in July 2023 after 36 dedicated years of service. Adventist Health White Memorial deeply cherishes and celebrates her passionate work on behalf of the children and families who received care for cleft lip and palate. Irmina Flores is the defining hero of health, wholeness and hope for our community!

To learn about the Cleft Palate Program at Adventist Health White Memorial, please visit the program website or watch this video.

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