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5-Year-Old Ethiopian Girl Has Massive Tumor Removed From Her Face By NY Doctors

A team of New York City doctors successfully removed an extremely rare tumor the size of a cantaloupe from the face of a 5-year-old Ethiopian girl.

“On a scale of one to 10, this is a 12,” Dr. Milton Waner, the lead surgeon behind the 12-hour operation at Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital, said, NY Daily News reported. “It’s one of the most complicated procedures we’ve ever done.” 

Since birth, a benign “vascular malformation” had been developing on Nagalem Alafa’s face which prevented her from going to school and socializing with other children. If the tumor continued to develop, Alafa would have either suffocated due to lack of air supply or starved if she became unable to swallow.

“They were hiding her at home,” Kalkidan Alemayehu Gebremariam, who’s been helping the child and her father, Matios Alafa Haile, translate after they arrived in New York for the surgery in late June, said, The New York Post reported.  

The tumor is rarely seen in children in the U.S. because a similar tumor would have been removed before it grew out of control, Waner’s wife and surgical partner, Dr. Teresa O, said. 

After a U.S. government official intervened and met the 5-year-old in Ethiopia last year, her family went on a worldwide quest to find healthcare that she had previously never had access to. The official eventually came across Waner and O, who agreed to do the $500,000 operation free of charge.

“The procedure was a really challenging, difficult task,” O revealed. 

Since the tumor was intertwined with major blood vessels, nerves and arteries, the June 23 surgery was extremely complex and dangerous. If doctors made one wrong incision, Alafa could have been left paralyzed or potentially bled to death.

“Before the surgery, we explained to the father that there was a possibility of her not making it,” Waner shared. “We knew the second day that she would make it, but for the first 24 hours, we were very concerned.”

According to Waner, one of the first questions Haile asked after the procedure was “is my daughter still alive?”

Now, after the operation was a success, Alafa is running around, playing games and smiling more than ever before. 

“This is why I became a doctor,” Waner told The New York Post on Tuesday during a press conference at the hospital to unveil Nagalem’s new face.   

“It will take several weeks and months for the swelling to go down, but the 5-year-old is over the hill now,’’ O said.

Alafa will be returning back to Ethiopia next week, but ahead of her New York departure, her medical team gifted her with a Black doctor doll. 

“She’s a different girl after the surgery,” Haile said through a translator. “I was crying before, but now, I’m smiling. May God bless you.”

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