UIHC doctor performs facial reanimation surgery on Utah teen - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UIHC doctor performs facial reanimation surgery on Utah teen

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

Fifteen-year-old Natalie Wright has good reason to smile.

"It's just nice to get my smile back," Natalie said.

Smiling didn't seem possible 11 years before, when at age four she was forced into surgery after doctors found a brain tumor had grown to twice its original size.

Complications led to paralysis of the left side of Natalie's face.

Natalie lost her vision, hearing, and facial functioning on that left side.

"It was tough, and sometimes a little grim," said Natalie's mom Dana.

"She lost her smile at that time, so that's been the pursuit," said Natalie's dad John.

Through it all, Natalie has remained incredibly positive, but she admits growing up, her confidence sometimes wavered.

"There's been different people that question, you know they have questions," Natalie said.

"People are curious, not mean, but curious, and so people would often stare and my heart would just break," said Dana Wright.

Thanks to a specialized medical procedure, Natalie is feeling more confident these days.

It's called facial reanimation surgery.

It's a two-part procedure in which doctors removed a nerve and muscle from her leg which were than transplanted in her face and connected to the side of her face not affected by paralysis.

It's the first such procedure ever conducted on a pediatric patient in the state of Iowa.

It's been a wait-well worth it for the Wrights.  Natalie and her parents now have plenty to smile about.

"It's exciting, I'm just very blessed," Natalie said.

"Now that she can smile and feel confident in who she is, that's just remarkable," said Dana Wright.

Doctors say it will take about a year for the nerve to regenerate before Natalie will be able to feel the full benefits of the surgery. 

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