“When my daughter Leah was eight years old, we realized something was truly wrong with her jaw. Our dentist said she just had a very small mouth and that she would be fine, but we always knew there was more to it. We tried dentists, orthodontists and other specialists, and felt like we were hitting a brick wall – it was like no one was listening to us. This is our beautiful baby girl and something’s not right, and we were desperate for help,” begins Chris B., Leah’s mother.
Chris found Alaska Center for Oral + Facial Surgery and met with Dr. Eric Nordstrom. “It was to the point where Leah couldn’t eat with utensils, she had to use her fingers to insert food into the top of her mouth. She never wanted to eat outside of our home, and it was affecting her social life. She didn’t have a lot of friends. Her face looked off-center. People stared. It was heartbreaking to see our pre-teen daughter going through this. When we found Dr. Nordstrom, my husband and I felt like, ‘Finally! We finally found someone who is willing and able to help us!’ It was a huge relief but there was still a lot of uncertainty.”
Prior to her jaw surgery, Leah could barely open her mouth and it was getting worse. She had a severe facial asymmetry with her jaw fused to her skull on one side. Leah could only open 17mm at the widest point, whereas most people can open to between 40 and 45 mm—and could only eat with one particular flat spoon. Dr. Nordstrom found that that her jaw was too damaged and distorted to ever function normally. Conventional surgical procedures and bone grafting would not work because her body produces too much calcium for it to heal properly. Leah needed newer technology for surgical correction, including high definition CT scanning, intra-oral digital scans, 3D computer rendering and printing, and virtual planning. With the help of a biomedical engineering firm, Dr. Nordstrom and his team were able to utilize this combination for total facial reconstruction. It has only recently become available with a limited number of surgeons in the country both trained in treating and willing to undertake these cases.
After a couple years of planning and working with the insurance company, Chris and her husband decided to go ahead with the surgery in Alaska. “Leah’s condition is very unique, and surgery for a patient like her had never been done in Alaska before. It took a lot of time and effort and some string-pulling by the staff at Alaska Center for Oral + Facial Surgery in order to get things into place. That’s one of the things we love about Dr. Nordstrom and his team, they are willing to go the extra mile to care for their patients,” explains Chris. “After surgery, Leah was like a celebrity in the ICU; so many doctors and medical professionals came by to see her ‘miracle’ surgery!”
The changes in Leah’s appearance were visible immediately post-surgery. “She looked so beautiful right away! Her face was symmetrical, with everything in place and how it is supposed to be. Within two weeks when the swelling went down, she looked like a totally different child,” says Chris. “Her pain was well managed and she was taking just ibuprofen after a few days. When she felt good enough to ask to see her reflection in the mirror, she was so surprised and happy!”
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. Says Chris, “Right after her surgery, the nurses brought Leah a popsicle. Leah had never been able to eat one before and she actually got quite mad that they would offer this to her, knowing that she couldn’t eat it. Well, they convinced her to try and to all of our amazement, she was able to open her mouth and eat the popsicle! We were all crying tears of joy over a silly popsicle, but it meant so much.”
Now, Leah is enjoying life as a typical teenager – hanging out with friends, eating anything and anywhere she wants, and is no longer self-conscious of her appearance. “Our friends and extended family are in awe – some of them didn’t recognize her!” shares Chris. “I have shown Leah’s before and after pictures to another family and recommended Dr. Nordstrom to them and they have become happy patients, too. I believe you’re in the best of hands with the surgical team here. We had the best possible outcome from Leah’s surgery and I would tell anyone facing an obstacle like this to just keep pursuing finding a solution because there are people like Dr. Nordstrom out there who can help you.”