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Egyptian girl with rare facial cleft gets unique care in U.S.

October 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Rokaya Mohamed was born with what doctors call a "duplication of mouths." That means the 15-month-old has two mouths. It's possibly the only known case of its kind.

Doctors in Cairo, Egypt, told her parents she wouldn't make it. But Rokaya is a survivor.

Thanks to numerous charitable organizations and doctors at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Rokaya is getting the surgical care she needs as she fights for a chance at a normal life.

[WARNING: Some images in the video are graphic.]

It's an operation few surgeons have experienced before.

Rokaya was born with a complicated variant of a facial cleft. It left her with two almost-complete mouths.

"We haven't seen this exact pattern before. So that's what makes it unique," said Dr. William Magee, Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Speaking through interpreter Hassan Alreyashi, Rokaya's father, Tamer Mohamed, said he and his wife were not prepared when they saw her at birth.

"The X-rays, the ultrasound didn't show us how her face is going to be," said Tamer.

Doctors said she wouldn't survive because she couldn't eat.

But each day, Rokaya grew stronger on a liquid diet. Tamer says she's a fighter, but some battles are unfair. In Egypt, Tamer says he covers her daughter's face because of the hurtful stares.

"We don't need that. We are going to fight to change her life," said Tamer.

Medical help wasn't available in Cairo, so a group of charities stepped in to bring her to the U.S.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles plastic surgeon Dr. William Magee is handling her case. His parents founded Operation Smile 30 years ago.

"We've been working really hard to provide specialized care to the region and are really starting to reach out to world," said Magee. "And we're doing it through partnerships like Operation Smile, like Mending Kids International and The Children of War. This child would never have had the opportunity to have this kind of care were it not for those incredible partners."

Rokaya has two upper jaws and two lower jaws. The goal of Wednesday's surgery is to peel away the soft tissues, fix the foundation of her face and work from there.

"There's not a previous case, so we have to think about concepts in order to provide this surgery," said Magee.

Rokaya's parents are grateful their daughter is getting this highly specialized care, but they hope doctors will also benefit and learn from their daughter's extremely rare case.

Magee says Rokaya's going to need many surgeries throughout her life, but she's off to a good start.

"So this will be the first shot at providing facial balance," said Rokaya.

The surgery started early Wednesday morning and was expected to be completed by the end of the day.

Surgeons Wednesday said, "She looks really good."

Magee and his colleagues hope to work with their counterparts in Egypt so the rest of her revision surgery can be completed there.


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