In February 2019 when I was 14, I was playing a rugby match for my club and was taken off with a suspected concussion I had a scan later that day which revealed that I had a brain tumour. I had surgery to remove the tumour a few days later. In the days following the surgery it became clear that one of the side effects of the surgery was that I had a facial palsy on the left-side of my face, related to the 6th and 7th facial nerves. This meant that when I smiled, only the right side of my face moved, I had no movement in the left side of my face. My neurosurgeon, Mr. Darrach Crimmins, referred me to the Craniofacial team in Temple Street.
I met with the Craniofacial team, including Mr. Murray and Mr. Theopold towards the end of 2019, approximately 9 months after the facial palsy had occurred. They were very friendly and positive and reassured me that facial nerve surgery could help me to gain some movement back on the left side of my face, in particular, when smiling. The team explained clearly what they would do during the surgery and what level of functionality I could realistically expect to gain. They also explained that I would have to learn to smile in a different way to trigger the “new” nerve which they attached to provide power to my facial muscles. I also met with the Physiotherapist who would work with me after the surgery to get the best long-term result. My first meeting with the Craniofacial team gave me great hope and comfort that they could help me.
Once I finished my chemotherapy treatment I was excited to have the facial nerve surgery, which was done in July 2020. It takes some time for the new nerve to grow through and reach the muscles so I had to be patient. After about three and a half months I started to feel some sensation in the left side of my face and very gradually the movement got stronger.
I do regular physio exercises and practice to try to retrain my brain how to make my full smile. This takes a long time, but I know that it will keep improving over the next few months and even years. I’m back in school full-time and I’m very happy with my smile now. Before the facial surgery I was very self-conscious of my odd-looking smile and I hated looking at photos of myself smiling. Now, a few months after the surgery, I’m much happier with my face and my smile, and while it still requires a lot of work to be able to “fully” smile, the surgery has made a huge difference to me personally and I know it will keep improving as well.