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A pair of Manhattan doctors removed a lethal tumor the size of a cantaloupe from a 5-year-old Ethiopian girl’s face in an intense, hours-long surgery — and she proudly showed off her new mug on Tuesday.
Little Nagalem Alafa, who lives in a rural village in the African country, has never had access to specialized healthcare and since birth, has suffered from a “vascular malformation” on her face that’s kept her out of school and prevented her from socializing with kids her own age.
“They were hiding her at home,” explained Kalkidan Alemayehu Gebremariam, who’s been helping the child and her father translate after they came to New York for the surgery in late June.
“They don’t let her go to school and now thanks to God for this…she’ll go to school.”
The benign growth has been developing “rapidly” since birth and Nagalem would’ve suffocated or starved, due to the inability to swallow, if the tumor wasn’t removed.
Luckily for her, a US government official met Nagalem in Ethiopia last year while on a mission and decided to help.
Following a worldwide search for doctors who could treat the rare condition, the official found Dr. Teresa O and Dr. Milton Waner, a married couple and surgical dream team from Lenox Hill Hospital, which agreed to conduct the $500,000 procedure pro-bono.
“This is why I became a doctor,” Waner told The Post Tuesday during a press conference at the hospital to unveil Nagalem’s new face.
“On a scale of 1-10, this is a 12,” the doctor said of the procedure, one of the most complicated he and O had ever done.
“This type of surgery is very difficult, very dangerous, and certainly life threatening. We explained what would happen to the child’s father. There was a possibility she may not make it.”
O said the condition is rarely seen in the US because kids typically get the growths removed well before it reaches the size of Nagalem’s tumor.
The child underwent the complex, 12-hour operation on June 23, when O and Waner dissected her facial and neck nerves and carefully removed the tumor and parts of her skin, which had grown around the malformation. The surgeons had to “cautiously navigate branches of nerves and vital arteries” that could’ve caused paralysis, severe blood loss and death if they were accidentally severed, the hospital explained.
The surgery was a success and when Nagalem was wheeled out of the operating room, her father dropped to his knees and thanked God when he realized that she made it.
“I was crying before, now I’m smiling and praising God and the doctors,” said dad Matios Alafa Haile through Gebremariam, the translator.
“He’s very thankful and grateful for the doctors. He has been looking everywhere for a cure for this cute girl,” Gebremariam added.
While Nagalem still has some healing to do and one more minor surgery, for the first time in her life, she’s breathing easy.
“She is playing, enjoying everything,” said Gebremariam.
“There is a big difference, she is different.”
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