Manhattan doctors have removed a giant, lethal tumor from a six-year-old Ethiopian girl’s face. Nagalem Afa, from a small village in the East African country, had a benign growth known as a vascular malformation. It started developing rapidly after she was born, her family said. She had not been able to go to school or socialize with other kids.
If the tumor was not removed, Nagalem would suffocate or starve because of the inability to swallow. The tumor could also rupture, doctors said. With no advanced medical care in Ethiopia, Nagalem was fortunate to have met a U.S. government official who was on a mission in Africa. The government official, right after meeting Negalem last year, decided to help her.
The official went ahead to search for doctors who could treat the condition and found Dr. Teresa O and Dr. Milton Waner, a married couple from Lenox Hill Hospital and one of the few surgical teams in the world specializing in complex pediatric vascular malformations. The procedure cost $500,000 but they agreed to do it pro bono.
“This is why I became a doctor,” Dr. Waner said. “Clearly we help people every day, but this was on such a grand scale.”
“Prior to surgery, we were extremely nervous about this, wondering how we would get around this,” Dr. Waner said. “This is no walk in the park.”
The child underwent the 12-hour operation on June 23. Dr. O and Dr. Waner “dissected her facial and neck nerves and carefully removed the tumor and parts of her skin, which had grown around the malformation,” Lenox Hill Hospital explained to The Post. The doctors had to be careful not to damage vital blood vessels, muscles and nerves. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of being a complicated procedure, doctors said it was a 12.
“This type of surgery is very difficult, very dangerous, and certainly life-threatening. We explained what would happen to the child’s father. There was a possibility she may not make it,” Dr. Waner told The Post.
The surgery was a success as doctors were able to remove the tumor the size of a cantaloupe from Nagalem’s face. Nagalem unveiled her new face on Tuesday during a press conference at the hospital.
Her father, who had come to New York with her for the surgery, said he was thankful to God that the surgery went well. “I was crying before, now I’m smiling and praising God and the doctors,” said father Matios Alafa Haile through a translator.
Nagalem has to undergo a second minor surgery to remove a small segment of the mass that is still under her tongue, according to ABC7 News. The remaining swelling will also go down after a few months, doctors said. Nagalem is ready to go back home on July 14. And for the first time, she’s breathing easy and playing.