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A six-year-old girl named Negalem Alafa, from Ethiopia, was born with a tumor that never stopped growing. Now, thanks to surgeons from Lenox Hill Hospital, a 12-hour surgery has removed the tumor from her face.

She underwent the surgery on June 23. The difficult operation required facial and neck nerve dissections followed by a careful removal of the tumor making it a dangerous operation.

“Her blood volume is only 1 liter and you can lose 300-400 milliliters in a minute or two by accidently puncturing these blood vessels.” Milton Waner, b2 medicine description MD, director of the Vascular Birthmark Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital, said at a press conference. “This is one of the most complicated procedures we’ve done.”

Negalem’s benign growth known as a vascular malformation rapidly developed soon after her birth. Her family had no access to medical care, allowing the tumor to grow massive and begin limiting her ability to breathe and swallow. If the tumor was not removed, she faced death.

Fortunately, a U.S. government official met her while on a mission in Ethiopia and helped the search to find doctors who could help.  After a year-long search, he found Dr. Teresa O and Dr. Milton Waner – a married couple and one of the few surgical teams in the world specializing in complex pediatric vascular malformations. They agreed to take on Negalem’s case and perform the surgery pro bono.

“Everywhere she’s gone her personality has shined,” said Teresa O, MD, director of the Facial Nerve Center at Lenox Hill Hospital. “We’ve been really privileged to have been a part of her journey.”

“He is thankful for everything the doctors have done for his little girl,” translator for Matios Alafa Haile, Negalem’s father, said. “He is thanking god for this every day.”

Lenox Hill Hospital and Northwell Health covered all hospital costs and post-surgical care. 

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