An Iraqi boy has been given a second chance at life after British surgeons removed a dangerous tumor from his face that even prevented him from smiling.
Three-year-old Saif Basim has endured three operations — one of which lasted an epic nine hours — to remove a growth the size of a melon from his face and neck.
Before the operation at St George's Hospital in London, the more than 11-pound tumor had grown so aggressively it had paralyzed the nerves in Saif's face.
"The pressing concern was breathing," said maxillofacial surgeon Graham Smith. "Over a two-month period it had grown steadily worse. In just a few more months he could have died."
Smith met Saif in Baghdad during a teaching trip earlier this year, but decided it was too risky to operate in Iraq.
He and other doctors secured a loan from The Norman Rowe International Educational Foundation to cover the cost — $59,000 — of bringing the youngster to London and performing the surgery.
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Scans taken before the surgery showed the tumor had eaten away Saif's cheek bone and a large section of his jaw.
After removing the growth, the team of 12 surgeons at St George's used one of his ribs and a pectoral muscle to reconstruct his face.
"In a child a lot of the rib is cartilage so it will grow as he grows," Smith said. "That's why he looks so good now. He's got some reconstruction there and can now open and close his mouth."
Saif may still need more operations in the future, but for now he making a good recovery and will return to Baghdad later this week to be reunited with his mother and two older brothers.