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Franks, ‘Duck Dynasty’ family raise awareness about cleft palates

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WASHINGTON – It was an unusual Washington grouping: The trim congressman in a dark suit, the little girl in colorful shorts and the bearded man in T-shirt and ball cap.

But when Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, met members of the “Duck Dynasty” Robertson family this week, it soon became clear that they had much more in common than the cleft palate that Franks and Mia Robertson, 10, have.

They met Tuesday evening in the shadow of the Capitol to raise awareness of the congenital defects of cleft palate and cleft lips – but they mostly talked about God, faith, family and tough choices.

“I believe that God has blessed kids, like Mia and Mr. Franks, with an extra measure of courage because their childhood is more difficult,” said Mia’s dad, Jase Robertson.

“But, instead of giving up they persevere through their pain and suffering they undergo. They build courage,” he said.

Mia underwent her first cleft-palate surgery when she was just 3 months old. Franks, now 57, had his first operation when he just 2 weeks old and went on to have nine more as a child.

It was while Mia was recovering from her fifth operation earlier this year that the family was inspired to found the nonprofit Mia Moo Fund, which is aimed at raising awareness of the condition.

Mia, dressed in red-white-and-blue and with her hair pulled back from her face, said her surgery was “not fun,” but that it gave her the courage to come to Washington and help other children “just like me.”

Franks reflected on his own childhood surgeries. He said it wasn’t easy and, like Mia, he was scared before undergoing surgery. He applauded Mia’s courage and “love for everybody.”

“God, help us to see the humanity in our hearts,” said Franks, who presented Mia with a certificate of “special congressional recognition” and commended her for reaching out to other kids with the condition.

What started as a small news conference with a handful of reporters and photographers slowly grew to dozens of onlookers, as tourists and Capitol staffers began to recognize the famous family.

“Duck Dynasty” follows the extended Robertson family, which makes duck calls at its Louisiana-based business, Duck Commander. Ratings have been falling for the cable reality show in recent years, according to Variety magazine, but the show on A&E still has millions of regular viewers.

While the show is heavy on faith, with each episode ending with a family prayer around the dinner table, fans do not typically see somber Robertsons, as picture-snapping tourists did Tuesday.

But after the event, the Robertsons were all smiles, taking pictures and signing autographs for excited fans.

Missy Robertson, Mia’s mom, said she was grateful to be Washington to help raise awareness of the condition.

“I am so glad we have this opportunity,” she said, as Franks nodded slightly. “Did we ask for this? No. Is it a challenge? Yes.”

But she said the family puts its faith in God. And Jase said that faith is what motivates the family to try to help.

“This is not something you choose to do,” he said. “You do it because it’s a good thing.”