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Cleft palate kitty finds home and cause

Rex Barber • Sep 22, 2012 at 9:39 PM

Animals with cleft palates can find it difficult to thrive, but Lazarus, an 11-week-old stray kitten found wandering the city recently, has a cleft palate so severe some may wonder how he’s even alive.

Hence his name.

“It just seemed like a likely name,” said Cynthia Chambers, who took Lazarus in almost two weeks ago and has since provided medical care, safety and food for the rambunctious feline. “You know, he’s a trouper. He’s an amazing kitty ... (and it) could probably be considered a miracle that he even survived to this point, so Lazarus just seemed fitting.”

Lazarus has what’s called a primary cleft palate that in his case impacts his airway such that his nose holes are located on the inside of his mouth.

“He doesn’t have the padding of the nose, which is really rare ... ,” Chambers said.

Lazarus has only been with Chambers a little more than a week and has already visited a soft tissue surgeon at the University of Tennessee. That doctor had not seen such a severe case where there was no soft padding for the nose. Lazarus’ nose is essentially not there.

But his condition has not stopped him from sprinting around a room or locking onto an object dangling near him as most kittens do, and he did when the Johnson City Press visited him recently for this interview.

“He is a marvelous kitten,” Chambers said. “He likes to play, he loves to love hard, he is just like any other kitten you can think of. He’s frisky and full of life.”

Tabetha Wynn, a master’s in teaching student at East Tennessee State University doing an add-on in special education, found Lazarus one day when he was wandering around a Johnson City neighborhood.

“I heard something crying and I was calling around and he came crawling out from where he was,” Wynn said.

She checked around to see if anyone was missing him and could find no one who knew of him, so she returned home, fed him and called Chambers, who is an associate professor in the special education program in ETSU’s College of Education. She also is involved in animal rescue.

“When Tabetha found the kitten he had a lot of fleas, he had bone exposure on the top of his mouth, and since the time that I received him he’s been eating really well, so addressing malnourishment. He’s also been on medication that has allowed soft tissue to grow at the top of his mouth,” Chambers said.

Lazarus has apparently adapted to his condition when it comes to eating.

“He’s accommodated quite well,” Chambers said. “He’s able to kind of throw the food to the back of the mouth and not let it get near the nasal passages, and then if he does get food near those passages, he sneezes.”

As he grows surgery will likely be needed on his cleft palate.

“For him it’s kind of questionable as to what the future holds related to health issues,” Chambers said. “He may need surgery to repair that cleft palate because it may cause future health issues. He is more prone to aspirating his food into his lungs. He’s also more prone to upper respiratory issues.”

Chambers said many rescued animals need medical procedures that can be costly. To help cope with Lazarus’ future medical bills, Chambers has established an account in his name at First Bank and Trust called “Care for Lazarus.”

More information about Lazarus and donating to his care can be found on Facebook by searching for “Care for Lazarus.”

Chambers said any money donated on behalf of Lazarus will go toward his medical treatment or other rescued animals that may have medical needs.

But Lazarus may actually earn his keep some day. Chambers suggested he would be helpful in teaching children about disabilities.

“I’m a professor in the special education program and so working with individuals with differences is some of the things I do, and building awareness related to disabilities,” she said. “And for Lazarus, he can be a really unique tool for helping children without disabilities understand differences and similarities and how we’re really more alike than different. And he can also be used with, let’s say, children who have cleft palates and kind of watching his process and feeling some type of connection with this kitten.”

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