Reason to smile
Mitchell Beilke has endured
22 surgeries to his face, but he keeps smiling through it all
by BRYAN ZOLLMAN
Mitchell Beilke has endured more medical issues in his 15 years than most people would have to go through in a lifetime.
Yet the Sauk Centre teenager maintains a positive attitude, and despite having bilateral cleft lip and palate, his condition doesn’t keep him from smiling.
Rachel Beilke knew her first-born son was going to have cleft lip when she was just five months along in her pregnancy, but didn’t know he would have cleft palate until he was born.
“We prepared ourselves,” she said. “Our doctors told us it was common for boys with cleft lip to also have cleft palate.”
Bilateral cleft lip and palate is the least common but most severe form of cleft lip. The lip, dental ridge and palate are each divided into three segments. Most often, the lip is completely divided on both sides. A cleft is a fissure or opening–a gap. It is the non-fusion of the body’s natural structures that form before birth. Approximately one in 700 children born have a cleft lip or a cleft palate or both
Due to his condition, Beilke also had severe ear problems. All of it has affected his speech, making it hard for him to communicate with others.
Many of his 22 surgeries have been to repair or correct his cleft lip and palate, but because he is a growing boy, additional surgeries need to be performed.
“This many surgeries has been unexpected,” said Rachel. “But his case is more severe.”
The Beilkes could have stopped having the surgeries when he was younger, but decided to go through additional procedures. When he was eight years old they began taking him to Gillette Children’s Hospital. Their hope is that through the surgeries they can save his teeth and repair his palate so he is able to communicate better.
“His speech affects how many friendships he has,” said Rachel. “Kids like to tease him because of the way he talks.”
Teenage years are tough on all kids, but Beilke has not only endured 22 surgeries, he has endured the wrath of others who have targeted him because of his condition. His mother said the school has done a fantastic job in helping curb the bullying behavior geared toward Mitchell. And often, she doesn’t hear about it because Mitchell doesn’t always tell someone when he is bullied.
“We usually find out from others,” Rachel said. “Mitchell usually forgives them right away. He just won’t say a mean thing about anybody.”
Despite being different than his peers, Rachel says Mitchell has maintained a positive attitude. He always tells his mom and dad, Jacob that “they’ll eventually like me for me, not because of the way I talk.”
Rachel is thankful the school has stayed on top of the bullying issue.
“They have been awesome,” she said. “I have never had to go past the principal and it has always been taken care of. As a parent, that helps so much.”
Now that Mitchell is older, they have involved him in the decision-making on his care. This past summer he had the choice to undergo an extensive procedure called Rigid External Distractor (RED), where the midface is advanced forward to try and correct the problem of cleft lip and palate. A halo-like instrument is inserted into the skull of the patient and the screws tightened every couple days to help the advancement of the midface.
Mitchell decided he wanted to go through with the treatment.
“He knows we are doing what is best for him,” said Rachel. “And he’s glad he did the recent procedure. And it worked because he said the dentist would always have to pull on his lip to get the impression in his mouth, but now he doesn’t have to.”
It was one of six surgeries he has had done this year, but by far the most extensive. He had to go on a liquid diet for two weeks and then a mechanical soft diet for two weeks. Being a teenager with a healthy appetite, this was tough on him.
Due to the surgeries Rachel and Jacob had to cancel trips to Wisconsin Dells the past two years. Mitchell’s condition can sometimes be hard on the other children. The Beilkes have two other children and Jacob has an adult daughter from a previous relationship.
“We have to worry about Mitchell a lot and that can be hard on the others,” said Rachel, who works as a merchandise supervisor at Walmart. “My kids have given up two summers because of the surgeries.”
Rachel spent this past weekend baking with her young daughter.
“She said it was the best weekend of her life.”
Mitchell has a close relationship with his siblings, especially his older half-sister, Krystal. Krystal recently had a son, making Mitchell a proud uncle.
“Krystal has been so good to Mitchell,” said Rachel. “And now Mitchell wants to show that he can be that way to Logan, too.”
Mitchell tells Krystal he will teach Logan how to hunt. Hunting is one of his favorite pastimes. So far he has only gone deer hunting with his uncle, Lyle, but says he wants to hunt everything.
“We want to get him a new gun so he can go duck hunting with his uncle,” said Rachel.
He also loves to build things and gets a new set of Legos every year. Last year he built a firehouse. He also loves to fish and he and his dad recently took up the hobby of go-karting.
But his surgeries aren’t completely behind him. Rachel anticipates many more. She said he will likely have to have the RED procedure done again when he is 18. He has also undergone six Pharyngeal Flap surgeries, a procedure to correct the airflow during speech. She hopes his most recent one is his last one, but they never know what sort of surgeries he may have to undergo in the future.
Because they have had good health insurance (Jacob works full-time at Pride of Main Street in Sauk Centre), his surgeries haven’t been too much of a burden financially. Until this summer when he underwent six surgeries.
“We never paid much attention to how much the hotel stays and gas costs us because it was something we had to do,” said Rachel. “But this year I have had to miss a lot of work to be with Mitchell. This summer we felt it pretty bad.”
The family has fallen behind on their bills while trying to keep up with Mitchell’s needs.
“We’re struggling to catch up,” she said.
The family owns a home on a contract for deed in Little Sauk. A benefit will be held this Saturday at the Sauk Centre Legion to help raise funds to help pay for medical and dental bills, transportation and loss of wages from Rachel’s time off work. A hog roast will go from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and include a silent auction. There will also be a bake sale from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Any monetary gifts can be deposited in the Mitchell Beilke Benefit account at MN National Bank, 235 Main St. S., Sauk Centre, MN 56378 or by calling 320-352-5211. Supplemental funds are being provided by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Western Stearns Chapter.
The hope is the benefit will help the family stay on their feet financially while continuing to get Mitchell the care he needs.
“My hope is that his face and speech will be as normal as can be expected,” Rachel said. “I want to get to the point to when he talks to people they are not constantly saying “what.’”
Rachel said it’s hard to see him have to constantly repeat himself to others over and over again. But she knows he will be a productive adult someday. And that day is coming soon.
“We tell him he can go to college if he wants and get a good job just like everyone else,” she said. “We tell him that all the time.”
For now he will focus on high school, where he is earning a B average. But since his little brother is getting As, Mitchell is striving to do better. When students get on the B honor roll they receive a maroon card signifying their accomplishment. Rachel said her son is never more proud than when he brings one home. But now he wants the gold card like his little brother.
For someone who has been through so much, one could forgive him if he simply didn’t have the strength and will to better himself. But because he keeps pushing forward, forward he will go.
“As hard as things have been he doesn’t give up,” his proud mom said. “He always gives a full-fledged effort in everything he does.”
And despite his condition, he isn’t afraid to smile. Maybe it’s because he has a family that loves him so much. Maybe that is all a person needs.
“I believe that God gave him the personality he has for a reason,” said Rachel. “He accepts things for what they are and doesn’t let it bother him. He still has a lot of reason to smile.”
And what a great smile it is.