For three years, Janet Sylva was unable to eat, talk, or smile.
The 12-year-old girl from The Gambia had a tumor the size of a grapefruit growing on her jaw that left her unable to even close her mouth.
But now Janet is beaming after a groundbreaking US surgery removed the six-pound tumor – one of the largest New York doctors had ever seen.
The mass had made her breathing so difficult that they were afraid she might die within a year if nothing was done.
At a press conference on Thursday, surgeons revealed that recovery since the operation has gone smoothly and that Janet can finally return home.
Beaming: Janet Sylva (left) and her mother, Philomena, smile during a press conference at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, where a groundbreaking surgery took place to remove a tumor that was growing in Janet’s mouth
Crippling pain: The tumor has been growing for more than three years and reached the size of a grapefruit, leaving Janet unable to eat properly, talk or even close her mouth
Janet was born in The Gambia and was a relatively healthy child. Her mother, Philomena, said Janet didn’t start complaining of mouth pain until she was nine years old. Doctors soon discovered a tumor growing on her lower jaw.
According to Dr David Hoffman, head of Oral Maxillofacial Surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, the tumor could have been treated when she was younger and first diagnosed.
However, the benign tumor was left untreated to the point that it became impossible to correct in her home country.
In three years, Janet’s tumor has tripled the size of her mandible, or lower jaw, and had deformed her face – reaching the size of a grapefruit.
She often walked with her face wrapped in a scarf and was reluctant to go to school or engage with friends.
Dr Hoffman was contacted through the nonprofit group Healing the Children, after they’d been notified of her condition from one of her local doctors in The Gambia.
The surgeon then contacted Elissa Montanti, the founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund – a charity that helps children who have been injured due to war, natural disaster or illness – in September and asked for help.
Janet did not start complaining of mouth pain until she was nine years old. She and her mother sought help at home and in Senegal, but to no avail. The tumor was left untreated
Happy: Elissa Montanti (left) of the Global Medical Relief Fund, smiles with Janet. Montanti arranged for Janet’s travel to the US for the groundbreaking operation
Montanti arranged for transportation, housing and a visa for Janet and set her up in a home on Staten Island.
Back in January, she told Daily Mail Online that it took months for doctors to figure how to treat Jannet.
‘Originally, Janet was going to be treated at Staten Island University Hospital, but it wasn’t until Dr Hoffman first saw her in person that he realized the extent of her condition,’ she said.
‘Between September and November, the tumor had grown. And it continued to grow right up until the day of surgery.’
The medical reason behind Janet’s tumor is unknown. Montanti suspects it may have something to do with water as accessible, clean drinking water is hard to come by in Janet’s home country.
Dr Armen Kasabian, chief of plastic surgery at North Shore University Hospital, led the team in performing the delicate operation.
Doctors not only had to remove the tumor but also rebuild her jaw using part of a bone from her leg.
Dr Kasabian said the team knew they had to get it right the first time because Janet and her mother would only be in the US for a short time
He said: ‘We don’t have the luxury of operating on her 10 times.
‘We have to try and get the most that we can out of just one operation.’
Doctors practiced on 3D models created from Janet’s CAT scans in addition to a great amount of virtual surgery practiced on a computer.
Dr David Hoffman (left) and Dr Armen Kasabian, hold a model of a tumor and the actual six-pound tumor, pictured in the brighter red. The surgeons said the tumor was one of the largest they had ever seen
After surgery: Janet’s lower jaw was reconstructed using the fibula, or calf bone. She’s undergone extensive therapy to learn and how to talk and eat again and has been cleared to return home next month
Surgeons had to become before familiar with how to take the fibula, or calf bone, which is normally straight and reconstruct it into a curved jaw bone.
Finally, on January 16, Janet underwent an approximately 12-hour operation surrounded by Dr Hoffman’s team of head and neck, pediatric, and plastic surgeons, as well as an interventional radiologist.
After recovering in the ICU, Janet underwent extensive therapy to learn and how to talk and eat again.
Janet and her mother are preparing to return to Gambia next week, said Montanti
Before heading home, the pair returned Thursday to Cohen Children’s. Through an interpreter, speaking their native language of Wolof, the mother and daughter thanked the medical staff.
‘I’m very happy and grateful because I have my daughter back,’ Philomena said.
And Janet is now smiling more than ever, and said the scarf she had worn to hide her face has been thrown away.
BENIGN MOUTH TUMORS AND HOW THEY GROW
A benign tumor of the oral cavity is a non-cancerous growth that does not spread to other parts of the body and is not usually life-threatening.
There are several different types of oral cavity tumors:
Hyperplasia is an increase in the number of normal cells, and such growths are very common in the mouth. It is usually caused by irritation or injury to oral cavity tissue.
There are two types: fibromas, which can occur anywhere, and pyogeneic granulomas, which usually occur on the gums.
Papillomas develop from epithelial cells that line the inner surface of the oral cavity.
They are wart-like growths often associated with human papillomavirus (HPV).
3. Pleomorphic adenomas
These benign tumors develop from the minor salivary glands scattered on the inner surface of the oral cavity or from the major salivary glands.
Also called mixed tumors, they are slow-growing and painless masses.
4. Soft tissue tumors
These tumors start in the different soft tissues that lie beneath the lining of the mouth, such as blood vessels and fat.
Most are soft to the touch and painless.
5. Benign odontogenic tumors and cysts
Odontogenic tumors and cysts are often benign and occur mostly in the jaw bones (mandible and maxilla).
They start from the tooth-forming tissues and may be caused by abnormal development of the jaw bone.
6. Benign tumors of the bone
These tumors occur in the jaw bones (maxilla and mandible).
There are two types: osteoma, found on the skull and facial bones, and ossifying fibromas, which develop in the lower jaw bone or mandible.
An osteoma may cause symptoms when it grows into the surrounding tissues.
Source: Canadian Cancer Society