"What you see is a lot of this in developing countries," Magee said of facial deformities, adding that the children who survive childhood are often branded as outcasts. "They certainly don't go to school. They certainly don't get employed. It's horrible, and it's a very correctible problem in the right hands."
He added that about 80 percent of the world's population doesn't have access to surgeons like Meara. A child is born with a cleft every three minutes worldwide, according to Operation Smile, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 10,000 babies in the United States are born with an encephalocele.
Still, Dominic risked infection and other complications, Meara said.
Despite a bout of possible fungal meningitis, which Meara said he thinks was perhaps not a true case of the illness, Dominic is doing well.
Dominic still has some issues with his pituitary gland -- which was moved to its proper place during surgery – causing problems with sodium levels, hemoglobin and water balance, Meara said. In the three weeks Dominic has been home in Milwaukee, Meara has checked on him with a camera-equipped robot in the Gundrums' home. Dominic has not had to return to the hospital.
"I have to say, handing my son off to them [the surgeons] was the most difficult thing I think I've ever done in my entire life," Gundrum said, adding that she knew her son would never look the same again. "As much as his face was different, we fell in love with that face. I don't know that anyone can really understand that."
Gundrum remembers one of her 11-year-old sons pulling a blanket over Dominic's face in a store shortly after Dominic was born so that shoppers wouldn't say anything mean about his deformities. But Gundrum took the blanket off and taught her son to show others he was proud of Dominic the way he was. Her 13-year-old daughter would later comment that she thought normal babies' noses were "weird" because she was so used to seeing Dominic's split button nose.
"You mourn the loss of the look and face that you fell in love with because that's the baby you knew," she said. "Now, there's a new Dominic, and we're falling in love with him the way he is."