BACKGROUND: From 1989 to 1993, 113 previously untreated patients were admitted to the Multi-disciplinary Cleft Lip and Palate Team of the University Hospitals Leuven. Palate repair was performed in our centre by one surgeon (FO) in 88 patients. Our current surgical technique consists of a single-stage supraperiosteal retropositioning (modified Veau-Wardill-Kilner) for patients with a soft cleft palate only (SCP) or a soft cleft palate with up to 1 cm of the hard palate (HSCPpa). Patients with a larger or complete cleft of the secondary hard palate (HSCP) and patients with unilateral (UCLP) or bilateral (BCLP) cleft lip and palate undergo two surgical stages for palate closure: a supra-periosteal retropositioning is performed around 12 months of age, and a modified Langenbeck closure of the hard palate around 60 months of age.
AIM: To assess velopharyngeal function with speech as outcome measure.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: Velopharyngeal function was assessed in two ways. In one assessment, a "hard" outcome measure was the number of patients undergoing pharyngoplasty following palate repair in our centre (n = 88). In the other assessment, velopharyngeal function was evaluated in a homogeneous sub-population of 44 non-syndromic cleft patients with normal to slight impairment of the following functions: mental development, language development, and hearing. In this group, prospectively collected data about hypernasality and nasal emission were analysed retrospectively using a semi-objective nasality index (NI). Articulation was evaluated using a subjective articulation index (AI) representing articulation errors (retro-articulation, glottal stops and facial grimacing) associated with velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI). Mean follow-up was 114 months.
RESULTS: Despite rigid assessment by a phoniatrician and speech pathologist, only 1 patient out of 88 patients with soft palate surgery in our institution was thought to need pharyngoplasty. In the sub-cohort of 44 non-syndromic patients, nobody needed a pharyngoplasty. In the latter cohort, at the age of about eight years, 27 patients (61.5%) had undetectable nasality, 13 patients (29.5%) had an NI of 1 or "mild" nasality, and 4 patients (9%) had moderate nasality. At this point in time, articulation errors associated with VPI were noted in 14% of patients.
CONCLUSION: In this subgroup of cleft palate patients treated following the Leuven protocol, there was no need for secondary pharyngoplasty. Ninety-one per cent of patients had no, or only mild, rhinolalia aperta by the age of eight years, and 84% did not display VPI-related articulation disorders. This suggests that velopharyngeal function in patients treated by this protocol is excellent compared to results in the literature.