GOMEZ
Alan Diaz  /  AP
Maxillofacial surgeon Jesus Gomez, of the Univeristy of Miami Miller School of Medicine, explains the procedure performed on Marlie Casseus on a CT scan image.
updated 12/22/2005 10:40:39 AM ET 2005-12-22T15:40:39

A 14-year-old Haitian girl underwent a rare operation Wednesday to remove much of a 16-pound tumor-like growth on her face that all but obliterated her features.

Doctors at Holtz Children’s Hospital finished operating on Marlie Casseus about 11:40 p.m., nearly 16 hours after the procedure began. The surgery is the first of many she will have to undergo.

A nonprofit group brought Casseus to the U.S. in September after the painful growth became so big it began to crush her breathing passage. The doctors are donating their time.

“I don’t know how to thank you for this,” her mother, Maleine Antoine, told doctors through a translator at a news conference. “I cannot express my emotions.”

Casseus 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,” said Dr. Jesus Gomez of University of Miami School of Medicine, one of the doctors involved in the operation.

Doctors said it was necessary to operate immediately or she would go blind.

CASSEUS
Holtz Children's Hospital via AP
Marlie Casseus before surgery, left, and after.
Gomez said doctors would start with the left side of Casseus’ skull and carve away the ballooning fibrous mass that had stretched and distorted her face, spreading apart her teeth.

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

Doctors have performed such operations before, but rarely on a growth so big, Gomez said. Only about 3 percent of the 150,000 people diagnosed with the disease worldwide suffer such an extreme condition, he said.

Back home in Port-au-Prince, Casseus faced not only physical suffering but rejection by her neighbors.

“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.”

The hospital said the $95,000 needed to fully restore Marlie’s features has yet to be raised, though some donations have come in from around the world. The hospital is seeking to raise the money through its International Kids Fund.

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