The Mollettes Don’t Do Things Halfway

Full Hearts. Full Marathons. Full Smiles.
The Mollette family

The Mollette family of Little Rock are true diamonds from the Diamond State: They are tough, they are rare, their values are eternal, and they shine brightest under pressure.

When Eddie and Shelly Mollette learned their son Parker would be born with a cleft at his 18-week ultrasound, a five-month sprint of research and preparation followed. When he was born, they felt ready as possible to accompany him along the long road ahead.

Thankfully, they were never on the journey alone. From Parker’s first moments until today, the cleft team at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) has been like family. Shortly after he was born, Parker became the first baby in Arkansas to receive a nasoalveolar molding (NAM) device — a technology surgeons use to prepare an infant’s cleft for surgery.

The Mollette family
The Mollette family, L to R: Shelly, older brother Preston, Parker, and Eddie

“The care we received was just beyond measure,” Shelly said. “It made me really feel like I wanted to give back to families in the same way that mine received so much.” Many people have these thoughts, but Shelly followed through. While Parker was still a baby, she quit her job as a civilian crime scene analyst to go to nursing school and, immediately upon graduation, went to work at ACH.

Raising a Cleft Ambassador

Parker has since returned to ACH for six cleft surgeries, plus speech therapy. And while some children with clefts struggle with self-esteem and depression, he has grown into a confident, cheerful, outgoing young man who lights up every room he enters and isn’t shy about his cleft — traits his parents worked to instill from the day he was born.

Eddie with Parker, who is holding a picture of himself before cleft surgery
Eddie and Parker, holding a picture of himself before cleft surgery
“When we found out Parker would be born with a cleft, we did not know what to do, where to go, who to talk to, or anything. I think a lot of people, when they find out their kid will have a cleft, get really scared, really nervous. My advice to them is celebrate the child, don’t hide them, because that might make them feel like you’re ashamed of them. Parker, before his surgery, we took him out in public, we were happy, and I think that’s how it should be. The way the world is today, I think we need more people to embrace instead of being mean and hateful and ugly.”-Eddie Mollette

Parker puts his cleft pride to good use as an ACH Ambassador. In this role, he shares his story with donors and foundations and has become the face of the hospital — literally, as his smile beams from billboards up and down Arkansas and from the sides of ambulances across Little Rock.

Completing the Pipeline

It was only a matter of time before Eddie came to work at ACH, too. A journeyman plumber, he had spent two decades working on commercial buildings throughout the area. When he came to ACH, he knew, “I just wanted to be a part of that group, that team, that hospital, because it impacted my family so much that I wanted to hopefully impact somebody else’s family as well.”

There aren’t many openings for plumbers at the hospital, but he didn’t quit. He applied every chance he got and was recently hired.

How to Run a Full Marathon

One ambition achieved, Eddie turned to his next one. He always wanted to run a major marathon — New York, Chicago, Boston, or bust. In 2021, he finally qualified for the Chicago Marathon and immediately got to work. “When I got into Chicago, Shelly and I sat down and decided that, in our family, we didn’t want to just go out there and do it for ourselves. We want to run it for a cause, for a purpose.”

While they didn’t have a cause in mind when they registered, the choice was soon obvious: Team EMPOWER, Smile Train’s endurance athletics program.

We feel Smile Train is the foremost name out there for cleft care. And while their work funding surgeries around the world is so important, we were especially drawn to the way they also support care here in the United States, too, because there are families here that need those valuable resources and a place to go for care.” -Shelly Mollette

True to form, the family used training as just another opportunity to help others. “We had group runs, little pub runs here and there,” Eddie explained. “We also volunteered to help people do a half marathon. So we would help them run so many miles and we would get the word out about our fundraising that way and they would pass it along.”

The love and support — and funds — that poured in from people inspired by Parker’s journey and Team EMPOWER astounded them, especially at a time when the pandemic made money so tight for so many.

The Final Stretch

Parker’s journey and Team EMPOWER were no less inspiring for Eddie. When training in the hot and humid Arkansas summer became a slog, “I thought about all the kids, my son, everybody that I was running for,” Eddie said. “I looked at it like I’m raising money for the kids, so I need to put in that time and that effort, and that’s what kept me motivated to keep on going through with it.”

Eddie in his Team EMPOWER singlet with his medal for completing the Chicago Marathon
Eddie with his medal for completing the Chicago Marathon

That motivation proved critical when he developed a sharp, nearly unbearable pain in his leg. He thought he might have fractured it but refused to see a doctor: “I thought they would probably tell me to stay home, and I wasn’t about to do that. I was going to run the marathon.”

And run it he did. His injury flared up at one point along the course, but this man who has devoted his career to ensuring children have an uninterrupted flow of anesthesia during surgery pushed through with a singular focus: “Think of the kids and their surgeries, the pain they went through. If they can do that, you can run a few more minutes or a few more feet. Think of Parker!”

Eddie and Shelly show off their medals
Eddie and Shelly show off their medals for completing the Chicago Marathon

As he approached the finish line, that voice in his head turned into that of his wife yelling encouragement from the sidelines (“They could have been threats, I’m not sure,” Shelly later clarified): “You can do this, you can finish it. Think of all the kids you’re helping. Think of Parker!”

“I’d say probably from the last 600-800 meters, I felt like somebody picked me up and carried me across the finish line because I felt no pain, no nothing; it was just my adrenaline and everything else. I finished the marathon.”

As Parker put it: “Dad wasn’t thinking of himself; he was thinking of the other kids.”

Never Complete

Eddie dangles his medal over the Chicago River
Eddie dangles his medal over the Chicago River

Eddie has since recuperated from the race and learned that, thankfully, his injury was “only” a torn muscle or tendon. His plans for the future?

“Tell Team EMPOWER I’ll see them at the New York Marathon next year.”

You, too, can turn your miles into smiles for children with clefts around the world.

Learn more about Team EMPOWER.