October 25, 2013
By Ashley Wolfgang '14
Knox College junior Rachael Morrissey recently had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear on television as a guest on the medical talk show, The Doctors.
The Doctors described Morrissey's experience of being born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, a birth defect in which the upper lip and the roof of the mouth aren't fully formed. Morrissey has had more than 16 different surgical procedures.
"The first one was when I was three months old, where they closed the lip and the palate," she said. "Then they had to do structural stuff, and I had braces for 12 years to get my teeth aligned."
A later surgery, which would have given Morrissey permanent implants for her front teeth, wasn't successful.
Morrissey made it onto the show thanks to a French bulldog named Lentil. Also born with a bilateral cleft palate, the dog's owner created a Facebook page to raise awareness about the medical condition.
"They originally wanted to do a story on Lentil," explained Morrissey. "They were going to fly her and her [owner] out to California for the taping. "
Lentil and Morrissey were well-acquainted, having connected through Facebook. Morrissey says she was amazed with what Lentil was doing for the cleft community, and she Skyped and e-mailed with Lentil and her owner.
"When [producers of The Doctors] asked if there were any local fans, or local Lentil fans that they could bring on the show, Lentil's owner said, 'If you don't bring Rachael out, we're not doing the show,'" said Morrissey. "She wanted to surprise me. She knew I had always wanted to meet Lentil."
After the show filmed for a day on-location at Morrissey's home in Peoria, Illinois, she and her mother were sent to Hollywood, California, to film the episode. During the show, Morrissey got a big surprise: It was revealed that she would receive free dental implants for her final surgery and that her surgeon had agreed to waive fees for the operation.
"This is so life-changing," Morrissey explained. (Photo at top of page: Rachael Morrissey with members of the cast of The Doctors and fellow guests on the show. Photo at right: Rachael Morrissey with Lentil, a dog born with a cleft palate.)
Being on the television show, she added, "was a really out-of-body, surreal experience. I mean, it's just so out of my element. I'm not used to people doing my hair and makeup. I had 10 cameras on my face. It was just such an adrenaline rush, but also very nerve-wracking, too."
Morrissey is a junior political science and Spanish double major with plans to attend law school. This past summer, she worked as an intern with Prairie State Legal Services in Peoria, Illinois. Read here about her internship experience.