Surgeon pulls off state-of-the-art procedure to remove large facial tumor

A man is thrilled to have found a surgeon in Houston to remove a large tumor from his jaw. It was a painful and emotionally difficult experience, until he met the right doctor.

Chris Stovah's wife first spotted his swollen jaw when they were living in their home country of Nigeria about five years ago. He soon found out it was a tumor, non-malignant, but fast-growing.

“It was terrible. Now I can laugh and express joy and happiness, but it was really, really terrible,” describes Chris.

He and his family ended up moving to Houston. He was in unbearable pain. His tumor had grown to the point that he was embarrassed to go out in public.

“Sometimes people look at you in society and question why you can't get help,” explains Chris.


Chris worked hard to find the right doctor for help. He turned to Dr. James Melville, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with The University of Texas Health Science Center.

“Chris' story is very unique because he has a neuroblastoma, which is one of the more common benign tumors. It's a rarity, but people do get it. His story is unique. He went to local ER's, but because of his immigration status, was not able to get care,” states Dr. Melville.

It took two years of hard work for Chris to clear-up his status and get health insurance. At that point, his tumor needed to be removed quickly.

“Neuroblastomas will continue to grow, until it impedes on the airway. If you look at third world countries, these tumors will get into the size of watermelons and impede the patient's ability to eat and breathe, so they do become lethal, if not taken care of,” says Dr. Melville.  

Dr. Melville quickly went into action, pulling-off a pioneering surgery to remove the large tumor, repair the nerve, and restore lost feeling to Chris' mouth and jaw.

“That's the exciting part of this whole thing. Essentially, to remove the tumor, you have to amputate or resect the portion of tumor with the jaw and reconstruct that with a leg bone. That brings in soft tissue and bone. Then we put implants in there to recreate the teeth and that looks great - but traditionally you take the nerves and traditionally, that was not reconstructed,” says Dr. Melville.  

If you've ever had dental work when your mouth is put to sleep, then you can understand what Chris would have felt the rest of his life. Nothing but numbness.

“You wouldn't be able to feel food on your lips, this heaviness in your lips and tongue area and essentially you wouldn't be able to feel the kiss of your wife or kids or feel the portion of that face, so it is really troublesome to the patients who have to endure that problem,” explains Dr. Melville.


He says even shaving would have been difficult for Chris, because he wouldn't even feel a cut and that could be dangerous. Eating, speaking and smiling would have been tough, but Dr. Melville and his team performed a twelve hour state-of-the-art procedure to spare him of all of that.

“With the ability of an Avance action graft, which is a cadaver nerve graft, we can repair the nerves at this point and the patient gets the sensation back,” states Dr. Melville.

Chris is feeling better than ever now.

“I feel great! I feel normal! Every time I talk to the doctor, I tell him I feel like I used to before the tumor, because I can do everything I used to do,” smiles Chris.

He can't believe he can feel his face again and beams at the thought that all hope has been restored. His surgeon says it’s fantastic to witness.

“It's the reason why we do what we do. It's the ultimate goal to help patients, and it's like the dream of a kid. You grow up to be a doctor, and this is the reason why you do what you do,” smiles Dr. Melville.

Chris will soon get dentures, since his teeth had to be removed for the surgery. He will need to be followed for life, because there is a risk that his tumor could come back.

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