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Women's History Month: Women Who Changed the Craniofacial World

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

March is Women's History Month. It's a celebratory occasion, highlighting females who create a ripple effect, and put a positive mark on the world. Debbie Fox and Mrs. Madge Apple are two women worth honoring and celebrating. Debbie Fox was born with a cleft lip that ran up her face, and together, these women pushed the boundaries for what's possible in reconstructive surgery. They both went to great lengths to receive medical attention and later raised funds to travel—funding their trips to seek advanced medical care nationwide. Their fundraising efforts ultimately led to the Debbie Fox Foundation, later named FACES: The National Craniofacial Association.

Debbie Fox was the youngest of her siblings. She was born in 1955 after her mom had a difficult pregnancy with her. She was born with 55 skull, face, and palate abnormalities. On top of her facial differences, she was born without an accessible right hand.

Mrs. Apple was a Hamilton County Department of Education teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee, assigned to teach disabled children. She was introduced to Debbie Fox when Debbie was seven years old.

When Mrs. Apple was assigned to Debbie, she was told Debbie suffered from a cleft lip. When Mrs. Apple went to Debbie's home, she was shocked to find out Debbie's condition far surpassed a mild case of cleft lip. Initially, Mrs. Apple thought she was the wrong person for the job. She left Debbie's house and cried in her car. After a restless night, Mrs. Apple could not get Debbie off her mind. The following day, she decided she was the right person to teach Debbie.

Debbie never went to school and could not attend school because her parents protected her from the outside world—both in school and church. She had extensive surgeries to reconstruct her face at a local hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her surgeries allowed her to eat, talk and have a more ‘normal’ appearance.

Mrs. Apple was a teacher and a wife to an engineer. They didn't have any children of their own. Mrs. Apple was determined to provide the best education she could give Debbie. Her husband used his brilliance and creative mind to build a telephone hookup in her family’s living room — granting Debbie access to her classmates and classroom. She could hear what other classmates were talking about, ask questions and say the Pledge of Allegiance in unison with her classmates.

Mrs. Apple rose to fame in the craniofacial community after she dedicated her life to helping Debbie travel to Atlanta and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to seek specialized medical care. Both women's perseverance resulted in a transformation in craniofacial syndrome medicine and Debbie's face.

The power of not one but two women changed the history of many affected by a craniofacial condition. They will forever be known for their advocacy and bravery in reconstructive plastic surgery. Together, they won the hearts of a generation of craniofacial patients.

A black and white photograph of three women gathered around a punch bowl. The woman starting from the left is tall, smiling and posing with her punch glass. She is wearing a light—colored dress with sleeves that cover her entire arm. The female’s dress is covered in flowers. The women in the middle is slightly shorter than the woman furthest to the left. She has dark, curly hair. She’s wearing dark lipstick, earrings, and a black and white necklace. She’s carrying her punch with her left hand and most of her right arm can be seen in the photo. The women farthest right in the photo is wearing a white dress, and pearl necklace. She is looking away from the camera, but smiling. She has dark, curly, short hair.
Dr. Thelma, Mrs. Apple and Ms. Debbie Fox

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FACES: The National Craniofacial Association
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