A 12-year-old girl will soon leave the United States for her home country of Gambia in West Africa after a surgery to remove a tumor growing in her mouth. The 6-pound tumor had been growing for three years, seriously affecting her life.
Prior to this surgery, Janet Sylva was given no more than six months to live. However, the operation was successful and the preteen girl has an entire future to look forward to.
The tumor had the size of a cantaloupe, making it difficult for Janet to speak, eat, and even breathe. The tumor was not malignant, but medical specialists predicted she would die of starvation should the tumor not be removed. Because of the tumor's large mass, it was impossible for the girl to perform routine tasks such as eating.
Medical teams back in Africa - in Gambia and neighboring country Senegal - tried, but didn't succeed in getting rid of the tumor. The doctors in Senegal then emailed a plea for help to international surgeons.
An oral surgeon from Staten Island, Dr. David Hoffman, answered the call and put together a team of highly specialized practitioners to help Janet free of charge.
Janet and her mother were transported to the United States by the Global Medical Relief Fund, a charity organization from Staten Island, whose purpose is to help children in need.
The surgery took place back in January, and it lasted approximately 12 hours. Before the surgery, the doctors practiced repeatedly on different 3D images of the girl's CAT scans in an attempt to become more familiar with her face and tumor.
Dr. Armen Kasabian, who is chief of plastic surgery at the North Shore University Hospital, led the team during the very delicate procedure. The surgery involved both the tumor's removal and the rebuilding of Janet's jaw using a small part of her leg. According to Kasabian, the team had to succeed from the first attempt, as the girl and her mother were only allowed to stay in the United States for a short period of time.
"We don't have the luxury of operating on her 10 times. We have to try and get the most that we can out of just one operation," Kasabian noted.
Ready To Return Home
According to Hoffman, Janet had been a prisoner in her own body. Now, she couldn't stop smiling and hugging the medical team who took care of her.
"We were very concerned about speech and swallow therapy for her, and in the beginning, of course, it was difficult, but with the therapy and her pushing her way through, she was able to get it back," noted Kasabian.
Additionally, Kasabian stated that throughout his entire career he had never encountered such a large tumor.
During a session with an interpreter speaking the girl's native language, Wolof, the girl smiled and said that the scarf that used to cover her face when she had the tumor has been thrown away. Both the girl and her mother thanked the doctors for taking care of her.