A birth defect led her to a career helping kids with a similar condition



Randall Web

Ellen Randall was born with a cleft lip that was repaired at Riley; now she’s joining the hospital’s craniofacial team as a physician assistant.

As a child, Ellen Randall didn’t know that a slight birth defect would later point her to a career helping kids.

Born with a cleft lip, Randall was just 3 months old when she had surgery to repair it at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Six years later, she had a revision surgery, so she remembers bits and pieces from that experience.

“My mom really thought the craniofacial team at Riley was great,” Randall said.

Last week, a now 27-year-old Randall joined that Riley team as a physician assistant, and she couldn’t be prouder.

“If you grow up in Indianapolis or Indiana, Riley is somewhere you want to be when you’re in healthcare,” she said. “You see how much they help kids.”

In her role with the pediatric plastic surgery team, Randall will be working with craniofacial and hand surgeons.

The Cleft & Craniofacial Anomalies Program at Riley, one of the first established in the U.S. (1933), offers a multidisciplinary team that includes surgeons, feeding specialists, speech pathologists, a developmental pediatrician, dentist and therapists. All are focused on providing comprehensive care for children with facial differences like cleft lip and/or cleft palate, which occur in approximately 1 in 600 newborns in the U.S.

Other conditions treated include facial trauma, jaw deformities and head shape abnormalities.

Because patients often must undergo a variety of procedures and therapies throughout their lifetime, the experience can be intimidating.

Randall was lucky. She didn’t require intense treatment, and she doesn’t think much about her cleft lip anymore, but she feels she can relate to patients and families she will meet before and after procedures.

“I like that this is a surgical role I’m going into, but I’m more on the education/preparation side. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of making patients and families feel more comfortable and knowing what to expect, so it felt like the right niche for me.”

The Indianapolis native went to Indiana University for her undergrad degree in chemistry. She completed the physician assistant program at Ohio University. Before starting work last week, she joined the craniofacial team for a national conference in Tucson, Ariz.

Her decision to start her career at Riley was reinforced during that conference.

“It was really cool to see IU Health’s presence there,” she said. “You can tell that our team put a lot of hard work into their research, and it made me really proud and honored to become part of their team.”

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist 
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org
   Photo by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist