Riley patient featured on TV show “The Doctors”

Riley Family on the Dr.'s (WISH Photo/ Rob Ressler)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A 3-year-old patient of Riley Hospital for Children was featured Thursday on nationally syndicated television show “The Doctors” airing on MyINDY-TV 23.

Christian Buchanan was born with a severe cleft palate, a deformity so rare there are fewer than 60 documented cases in medical history. Buchanan has no eyes, a hole in the roof of his mouth, he cannot eat or enunciate words.

“Christian has a very rare clefting of the face which involves separation of his face, loss of parts of his face, and parts of his anatomy being in the wrong place,” says Dr. Roberto Flores, director of craniofacial surgery  at Riley at IU Health. “One’s face does come together as a puzzle while you’re developing, but his just didn’t come together the way it should have.”

Just after his first birthday, Christian’s story gained prominence in March 2012 when his mother Lacey posted a tearful explanation of Christian’s condition on YouTube, using hand-written notes that showed a young mother struggling to stay positive. The seven minute video now has more than 182,000 views.

Christian underwent surgeries in Tennessee when he was a baby to repair portions of his mouth and face. The next stage in his journey was to create a roof (palate) for his mouth, which he was lacking.

“We visited four different children’s hospitals and we just weren’t comfortable with what we were being told,” says Lacey. “Dr. Flores was just the most compassionate surgeon that we had ever met – we had never met a surgeon who just wanted to help us so much.”

Because Christian’s problem is so rare, there is no precedent for treatment. Flores customized a two-part procedure for Christian to create a palate using Christian’s own, limited tissue. The first procedure, which took place in November, will close his hard palate. The second procedure to close his soft palate will take place June 4.

“We’re scared and I’ll be the first to admit that,” says Lacey. “It’s hard to watch him go through the surgeries that he has to go through because he doesn’t understand why.”

Christian celebrated his third birthday February 18 and is “all boy” as Lacey explains.

“His favorite thing right now is to ride a Power Wheel and he’s big enough to understand when he runs into something, he just needs to put his feet down and back himself up.”

Lacey describes Christian as strong-willed and quickly developing a love for music.

“Christian takes piano lessons every week,” says Lacey. “I think his love for music started when he was just born. We would take a CD player into the NICU and play music for him nonstop.”

On the day of his first surgery at Riley Hospital in November 2013, the staff brought a piano into the hospital lobby for Christian to play before he went into surgery.

“When you hand your child over for a surgery and you know that your child’s life is not in your hands anymore, it’s a scary thing,” says Lacey. “It makes you question everything, like, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Is this what’s best for him?'”

The Buchanan’s story has inspired thousands of people, maybe none more profoundly than those who handle Christian’s care.

“Chris and Lacey are incredible people and they’re very supportive,” says Dr. Flores. “For me, it’s an inspiration just to treat Christian and be part of his life.”

You can follow Christian’s journey here. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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