Nicole Serna-Gonzalez, 11 was born with a condition called unilateral congenital facial paralysis which left her unable to smile.
A Virginia girl will be able to celebrate the holidays this year happily with a brand new smile all thanks to a life-changing surgery that she believed to be the first pediatric patient to undergo. Nicole Serna-Gonzalez, 11 was born with a condition called unilateral congenital facial paralysis which left her unable to smile. On top of that, she was also unable to blink or show emotion on the right side of her face. This condition is said to be really rare, it happens in around 2 out of 1000 births, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadephia. According to PEOPLE, the parents and the doctors initially told them that they believed this condition would either improve or absolutely go away. "In the beginning, we had hope that it would go away with time, though we didn't think much of it," her mother, Carolina Gonzalez, told USA Today.
However, things didn't happen as they said they would. As she got older she underwent further testing that showed part of her nerve had not developed while she was in utero. This is what led to her facial paralysis. "I didn't want to fix her because I thought something was wrong. I loved her smile before. It's who she was," Carolina Gonzalez told ABC News. "But I wanted for her to live a life where she doesn't have to tell her story on a daily basis."
Nicole's condition is rare and the parents initially faced difficulty finding information about the condition online. During their research, Carolina Gonzales said she stumbled upon a piece of information that would help them immensely. She discovered Dr. Patrick Byrne, who is now chair of the Head and Neck Institute at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "I want more parents to be able to look up and find it and normalize the whole thing, including the surgery process," said Carolina Gonzalez. "As parents, whatever the situation is for the child, I think it’s so important to always build your child, always make them feel secure, make them feel special, because they are. That’s how we raised Nicole."
"I feel happy with my new smile and I think it’s really magical," she told ABC News. "The side of my face, when I smile, it moves, and I'm really happy about that. I have a full smile now." Byrne and his fellow surgeons performed a first-of-its-kind tri-vector gracilis free tissue transfer. "We have to implant these muscles in a way that they'll not only work but hopefully look beautiful and look natural, once they start working," said Byrne. "Now when Nikki smiles spontaneously when she smiles with her mouth, she's also smiling with her eyes, as we do naturally."
Nicole Serna-Gonzalez, 11, will be able to celebrate the holidays this year with a bright smile on her face thanks to a life-changing surgery that she is believed to be the first pediatric patient to undergo. https://t.co/lO8LoGvKrt— Travis Akers (@travisakers) December 20, 2022
They also informed the parents that as she grows older Nicole's face will become more natural and will have what he calls a "nicely symmetric face. She's already beautiful and she's special," he said. "But we're looking forward to even more improvement as she goes through her further development."
She also encouraged other parents to teach their children to be more accepting of others' differences, even if kids are just curious. "It's a good lesson that I've learned as a mom," Carolina told USA Today.
Cover Image Source: Cleveland Clinic | GMA