A mom could only see her son’s face for four months after his birth. When the baby was born, a massive growth almost covered his entire face because of a congenital problem in his skull. After a complicated surgery and reconstruction of his face, the baby’s cute face was finally revealed.
When Valeka Riegel gave birth to her son, Zakary, she was devastated to see a growth on her newborn baby’s face.
“The growth covered (his face) from his nose to his mouth and when you looked at him as a baby, all you saw was a little mouth,” Riegel, a surgical nurse from Toledo, Ohio, said in an interview.
Zakary had an encephalocele, a rare congenital defect in his skull that produced a balloon-like sac full of fluid and even brain tissue, which developed in his forehead.
To survive, Zakary needed surgery to treat the problems causing the massive growth. However, he had to wait until he was over 15 pounds (approx. 7 kg) to be able to undergo the surgery. So, he stayed in the NICU for 128 days, and his mom stayed by his bedside for most of the time.
“For five months, I cried, became angered, fearful…” Riegel, now a mother of three, wrote in an open letter to her baby son.
Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Stevenson led the team to do the surgery. They not only had to successfully operate on little Zakary to ensure his survival, but also had to make sure he would have a chance to develop normally in the future.
“There were several steps involved, including exposing the forehead, exposing the defect, amputating all that tissue, and then reconstructing a normal brain, and then reconstructing all of the normal layers or barriers which had formed a [sic] the time of development,” Stevenson told ABC News.
Then, plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Pan helped work on the complex reconstruction of little Zakary’s face.
“I knew how complicated this was emotionally, physically and medically,” Riegel said.
After nine hours of hard work, Dr. Stevenson walked out of the operating room. “He said to me, ‘He doesn’t look like Zakary, but he still has the same beautiful smile,’” Riegel recalled. “‘Just look at his smile and you will see Zakary, I promise you.’”
“The first thing he did after extubation was smile, and 23 hours later he was out of the pediatric ICU,” Riegel added.
Zakary has just celebrated his first birthday last December. He started to crawl and interact well with other children.
“He seems to be attaining milestones in a time frame we would expect,” Stevenson said.