NEW YORK (WABC) -- A 6-year-old girl named Negalem from a small village in Ethiopia revealed her face for the first time after undergoing lifesaving surgery to remove a giant, lethal facial tumor.
The 12-hour procedure was performed at Lenox Hill Hospital on June 23.
Negalem had a benign growth known as a vascular malformation, which started developing rapidly after she was born.
If the tumor was not removed, Negalem would suffocate or starve, due to the inability to swallow.
She also faced the danger of having the tumor rupture.
Negalem did not have access to advanced medical care in Ethiopia, but fortunately, a U.S. government official took her under his wing while he was on a mission in Africa.
After researching doctors, the government official 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.
"This is why I became a doctor," Dr. Waner said. "Clearly we help people every day, but this was on such a grand scale."
Dr. O and Dr. Waner agreed to take on Negalem's surgery, while Lenox Hill and Northwell Health covered all hospital costs and post-surgical care.
"Prior to surgery, we were extremely nervous about this, wondering how we would get around this," Dr. Waner said. "This is no walk in the park."
On a scale of one to 10 in terms of being a complicated procedure, they said this was a 12. Dr.0 Robert Rosen prepped the mass, and then during the surgery, centimeter by centimeter, they removed the benign growth.
It was the size of a cantaloupe, and they had to be careful not to damage vital blood vessels, nerves and muscles.
"The good news is that everything worked out, and all the pieces came together in the end," Dr. O. said.
Nagalem will undergo a second procedure to remove a small segment of the mass that's still under her tongue.
The family is slated to return home on July 14, and doctors say the remaining swelling will go down over the next few months.
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