Miami doctors complete removing 16-pound growth from teen's face

Tuesday, December 6th 2005, 11:31 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ A 14-year-old Haitian girl was in critical but stable condition Thursday morning after a groundbreaking surgery to remove a 16-pound tumor-like mass from her face.

Doctors at Holtz Children's Hospital finished operating on Marlie Casseus about 11:40 p.m. Wednesday, nearly 16 hours after the procedure began, said Robert Alonso, spokesman for the hospital. It was unclear what the outcome of the surgery was.

The operation is the first of many Marlie must undergo. The teen suffers from a rare form of Polyostotic Fibrous Dysplasia, a nonhereditary, genetic disease that causes bone to become ``like a big a bowl of jelly with some bone inside,'' according to Dr. Jesus Gomez of the University of Miami School of Medicine, part of a team of nearly a dozen specialists who performed the procedure.

Doctors have performed such operations before but rarely on a growth of such extreme size, he said.

Gomez said about 150,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with the disease, but only 3 percent suffer such an extreme condition. He added this growth was the largest he had ever seen and that every bone in her body was involved with the disease. Her liver and spleen were already altered because of it.

He said Marlie is in constant pain and must be medicated but should have a normal life span with the operation.

Back home in her native Port-au-Prince, Marlie faced not only physical suffering but rejection by her neighbors as well.

``She was treated like an animal. If she was walking on a sidewalk, people would cross the street,'' Gomez said. ``If they tried to stop a taxi, it would keep going.''

Marlie's mother Maleine Antoine said she had lost hope in Haiti.

``I don't know how to thank you for this,'' she told doctors through a translator in a press conference at the hospital Tuesday. ``I cannot express my emotions.''

The nonprofit Good Samaritan for a Better Life brought Marlie to the United States for treatment in September after the tumor grew so big it began to crush her breathing passage. At that time, doctors inserted a breathing tube down her throat.

Gomez said doctors would start with the left side of Marlie's skull and carve away the ballooning fibrous mass that has stretched and distorted her face, spreading apart her teeth and all but obliterating her features.

If the operation is successful, they will seek to reconstruct the right side of her face and then later reconstruct her swollen jaw.

Doctors said the mass could continue to grow through Marlie's adolescence but it was necessary to operate immediately or she would go blind.

The initial operation, paid for with donations from around the world, will cost $95,000 because the doctors waived their fees. The hospital and Samaritan said they have yet to raise the funds to fully restore Marlie's features. The hospital is seeking to raise the money through its International Kids Fund.