A group of doctors finally freed a 6-year-old girl from the massive facial tumor that was threatening her life.
Nagalem Alafa of Ethiopia was born with a tumor on her jaw that continued to grow over the years. It became so large that her doctors feared it would cut off her ability to speak, swallow, and breathe if it got any bigger.
Experts worried that any little bump or scrape would rupture the tumor and cause Nagalem to bleed out. The mass was too dangerous to live with and too dangerous to remove… or so they thought.
When a U.S. government official met Nagalem on a mission trip last year, they began searching the world for physicians who could attempt to remove the tumor. Eventually, a surgical team at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City agreed to take on the challenge for free.
“I became a doctor to help people,” said Dr. Milton Waner, one of the surgeons who worked on Nagalem. “Clearly, we help people every day, but this was on such a grand scale.”
In 2021, the day Nagalem and her family had been waiting for finally arrived. She and her dad, Matios Alafa Haile, traveled to New York for the 12-hour surgery that would save her life. According to Waner, “On a scale of one to 10, this is a 12.”
“It’s very, very difficult and complicated. In fact, one of the most complicated procedures we’ve done,” he continued.
During the procedure, the team carefully cut around nerves and arteries to remove about 1 pound of the mass from the child’s jaw. Nicking even one of these vessels could have resulted in paralysis, severe blood loss, or even death.
Thankfully, the surgery went smoothly and they were able to reconstruct her jaw. Nagalem will stay in New York City for a few months for some smaller reconstructive surgeries, and her swelling will continue to shrink with time. The little girl and her father are relieved and grateful for the doctors who helped them.
“I was crying before but now I’m smiling so thanks to God,” Matios said. “She is like different after surgery. She is playing enjoying everything outdoors. There is a big difference. May God bless the doctors, without them this wouldn’t be like this.”
We are so lucky to live in an age where there is help for people like Nagalem. These talented surgeons just changed this child’s life forever. Maybe she’ll grow up to be a doctor herself some day!
Share this story to wish Nagalem a smooth recovery.
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