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Girl goes through life-changing surgery to help her to smile: 'It’s really magical'

'For us as parents, it was really important to do the most that we could and not regret it,' said the girl's father.

Girl goes through life-changing surgery to help her to smile: 'It’s really magical'
Cover Image Source: Facebook | Cleaveland Clinic

An 11-year-old has something special to celebrate this Holiday season - her bright new smile. Nicole Serna Gonzalez, 11, was born with a condition called unilateral congenital facial paralysis, according to GoodMorningAmerica. Because of the paralysis on the right side of her face, she reportedly could not smile, blink or show any emotions. 

Her parents, Sergio and Carolina Gonzalez were earlier told that the condition will get better or will completely heal on its own As that didn't happen, her parents took her for testing. They came to know that part of a nerve had not developed while she was in utero.


When they realized that it was not something that will go away on its own, they decided to get it treated. Carolina said, "I didn't want to fix her because I think something is wrong. I love her smile before. It's who she was." But she wanted a life for her daughter in which she didn't have to keep telling her story. 

According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, it is a condition that happens to 2 out of 1000 children. Nicole's parents could not even find much information about the condition online mainly cases in which the facial paralysis was fixed. However, Carolina saw Dr. Patrick Byrne on YouTube who is the Head and Neck Institute at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. The family traveled to meet with Byrne and found that he could treat Nicole's facial paralysis with surgery.



For the family, it was a "big leap of faith." They were scared but didn't want this "opportunity" to pass for their daughter. Sergio said, "For us as parents, it was really important to do the most that we could and not regret it and not deny her the opportunity."

They were told that it was going to be a 12-hour surgery and the results will only be seen in the next two to three years. Byrne knew how important this process was for Nicole. He said, "When people lose their ability to express their emotions on their face, it really has profound effects." "It affects not only how you feel about yourself, but it has dramatic effects on how people respond to you. It’s a really difficult way to go through life because you don’t get the responses from people that most of us do in everyday situations."


Finally, the surgery took place on June 8, 2021. Byrne had a team of an anesthesiologist and multiple nurses who helped with conducting a facial reanimation operation, it basically involved removing a sensory nerve from her leg and implanting it on Nicole's face. They reportedly did a trivector gracillis free tissue transfer for the first time. They took the gracillis muscle from her leg and divided them into three slips and then implanted them under and around her eyes. Byrne said, "We have to implant these muscles in a way that they'll not only work but hopefully look beautiful and look natural, once they start working." 

He added that eventually, she will end up having a "nicely symmetric smile."

It's been more than a year since her surgery and Nicole defines her smile as "magical." "I feel happy with my new smile and I think it’s really magical," she said. "The side of my face, when I smile, it moves, and I'm really happy about that. I have a full smile now." She really hopes that her story helps "others with facial paralysis."

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