In September, when Jax was 17 months old, a household accident severed three branches of his facial nerve and paralyzed part of his face. Rushed to a nearby hospital for stitches, the on-call physicians noticed that Jax’s face was motionless. The toddler needed the help of facial-paralysis experts—and fast.
“If you wait too long, the ends of the nerve don’t match up properly, and there is a much less favorable outcome,” says James Chang, MD, an expert in pediatric microsurgery at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.
“The most critical issue is to identify the injury and get the patient into surgery right away,” adds craniofacial surgeon Rohit Khosla, MD, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Once you lose those nerves, there is no way to introduce new nerves into the face to jump-start the muscles again,”
Damaged nerves can best be reconnected if the problem is treated within about 72 hours. Drs. Khosla and Chang scheduled immediate surgery for Jax once they got a look at him, about 60 hours after his injury. In the operating room, the Packard Children’s specialists reconnected the torn nerves using a needle the size of an eyelash and repaired the toddler’s facial injury.
The entire surgery took about four hours, which is about average for the 6 to 10 facial-paralysis operations the Packard physicians do every year.
Now 2 years old, Jax is still recovering, regaining control of his facial movements as the nerves continue to regenerate. A big grin is often on his face these days.
“We are fortunate that Packard is at our doorstep,” says his father. “You can’t really duplicate the experts they have here—or their experience.”
- Erin Digitale
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