The tumor started out as little more than a cyst on Lai Thi Dao's tongue when she was three years old. At that stage, surgery to remove the growth would have been quick, cheap and relatively painless. But Dao had little access to medical care where she lived, and the tumor went untreated.
By the time Lai was 15, the tumor had slowly consumed the lower half of her face and accounted for roughly one-third of her body weight. As it grew, normal tasks such as talking, eating, drinking and sleeping became increasingly difficult.
Last Mod: 02 Mayıs 2008, 17:12
Doctors at the University of Miami/Jackson told the Miami Herald that the Schwannoma tumor was one of the largest ever reported, but it probably won't return now that it has been removed.
"We're happy to report that the surgery to remove the extremely large tumor from Lai's face was successful, as we were able to remove the entire tumor," Dr. Jesus Gomez and Dr. Robert Marx of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center reported in an official statement Wednesday.
"Lai responded very well to surgery, and the outcome is better than expected. We are very optimistic and look forward to sharing more news on her progress as she recovers," they added.
The surgeons also took on the considerable task of realigning Dao's jaw and reconstructing the bone and soft tissues that have been distorted by the massive growth. Marx says the techniques they plan to use will allow them to hide and minimize scars, allowing for a better appearance along with better function.
"We expect her to look better, speak better, swallow better and, by extension, eat better," he says.
The price tag of the medical care is estimated to be $107,000. While The Holtz's Children's Hospital at Jackson Memorial Medical Center offered to perform the surgery at a charitable rate, The International Kids Fund — the program that arranged for Dao's procedure — is still looking for generous donors to cover the cost.
"What we hope to do is get her into the normal lifestyle of her village," Marx says. "Our end points would be that she goes to school, that she begins having friends who accept her as an equal. We're hoping to get her back into the mainstream of her culture."