Dad and daughter duo with cleft palates get surgery at same hospital decades apart

PHOTO: Hattie Pierce (right) and her dad Brian were both born with a cleft lip and palate and had them repaired at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Courtesy Molly and Brian Pierce
Hattie Pierce (right) and her dad Brian were both born with a cleft lip and palate and had them repaired at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Hattie Pierce was born with a cleft lip and palate. And when her mom and dad, Brian and Molly Pierce of Atlanta, saw her photo, they knew she would be their daughter.

Brian and Molly Pierce had already decided to adopt from China prior to being matched with Hattie. Brian Pierce, too, had been born with a cleft lip and palate and as such, felt a special connection to the little girl whom he only knew through a photograph.

"In China, you don't get to adopt a quote-unquote healthy child," Brian Pierce told ABC News, adding that Hattie is, in fact, perfectly healthy. "They give you a list of conditions you'd accept, it requires a lot of soul-searching. But a cleft lip and palate made a lot of sense."

PHOTO: Hattie Pierce was born with a cleft lip and palate, as was her father. They were both treated at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Courtesy Molly and Brian Pierce
Hattie Pierce was born with a cleft lip and palate, as was her father. They were both treated at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Brian Pierce endured seven surgeries between birth and the age of 18. Hattie has had two so far, though more are likely on the horizon. Both father and daughter had their cleft lip and cleft palate repaired at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. In a happy coincidence, Dr. Joseph K. Williams, the surgeon who performed Hattie's surgery, was mentored by the very same surgeon that performed Brian Pierce's.

"Any story of restoration is never really just about the surgery, but the sum of the patient's experience," Dr. Williams told ABC News. "How unique for this pair to share such a special bond, not only as father and daughter but also as two people who have gone through the same experience. This is truly coming full circle in such a beautiful way. I feel privileged to have played a small part in it.”

In addition to Hattie, adopted when she was 16 months old and is now 4, the Pierces also have a 5-year-old daughter, Curdie. Curdie is in the stage where she likes to point out her similarities to her parents, Brian Pierce said.

"She'll say, 'I have blue eyes like Daddy,'" he said. "Hattie's only in preschool and no one has said anything to her so far [about her facial surgeries], but some day they will. I'll be able to help her deal with that because I went through it. I'll be able to say, 'Look at Daddy, he went through the same thing.'"

Today, though, Hattie is a "confident, happy girl," her dad said, who is "everyone's favorite playmate."

He added, "Maybe I worry about it more than I need to."

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