MIAMI – A Haitian teen who once hid her grossly distorted face smiled and danced Thursday, a sign of how far she has come since doctors removed a 16-pound tumor-like growth.
When Marlie Casseus arrived in Miami in December, the growth had stretched her facial features so far apart that only her eyes, nostrils and a single tooth were recognizable.
Though her lower lip now hangs open, causing her to drool slightly, the 15-year-old smiled broadly and shimmied at reporters and television cameras. Without music, she stood on her own, held up her arms and shook them and her hips back and forth.
Once she recovers from another surgery next month, Marlie will learn to swallow and speak again.
"Marlie is very happy now. She is happy to see the face now," Maleine Antoine, the teen's mother, said in English, which she has learned since coming to Florida with her daughter.
Surgeons removed the massive growth, narrowed the separation between her eyes and lips and rebuilt the interior of her nose and jaw in three surgeries in the past year at Holtz Children's Hospital.
A reconstructive surgery to reshape a titanium plate previously implanted in her jaw, scheduled Oct. 5, will be her last for now, said Dr. Jesus Gomez, a maxillofacial surgeon at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"In the future she's going to look like a normal person," Gomez said.
The series of surgeries have progressively flattened Marlie's cheeks, centered her eyes and defined her nose. Her face is still elongated and slightly asymmetrical, and Gomez said she will likely need additional cosmetic surgeries once she stops growing.
Marlie suffers from a rare form of polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, a nonhereditary, genetic disease that causes bone to swell and become jelly-like. The growth began about six years ago, and eventually prevented Marlie from eating, breathing or speaking on her own. Doctors in Haiti gave her no hope to live, Antoine said.
The teen, who wore a Disney Cinderella T-shirt and ribbons in the braids in her hair Thursday, breathes on her own but cannot speak because of a tube implanted in her windpipe for surgery. She also still has a feeding tube.
Doctors will continue to monitor her condition, but the lesion that deformed her face is not expected to grow back once she completes puberty, Gomez said.
The hospital's International Kids Fund, which seeks to provide medical care for needy children from around the world, is asking for donations to continue Marlie's care. The Haitian nonprofit Good Samaritan for a Better Life helped bring the teen to the United States.