UW Health Surgeon Reconstructs Face of Girl with Parry Romberg Syndrome
Parry-Romberg syndrome is a rare condition which causes the soft tissue structures on one side of the face to atrophy and deteriorate. More common in young girls and often only affecting the left side of the face, little is known about this rare disease.
John Siebert, MD, a UW Health plastic surgeon and professor of surgery with the University School of Medicine and Public Health, has seen and operated on nearly 400 different etiologies - 140 specific to Parry-Romberg. So, when he saw pictures of his young patient Christine for the first time last summer, he immediately knew what he was dealing with.
"Christine is a more typical patient. The left side of the face is more commonly affected than the right and the condition is more common in girls than boys - about a 3:2 ratio in the cases I have seen," says Siebert.
Last November, 11-year-old Christine Honeycutt, a North Carolina native, made the trip to Wisconsin with her family for the seven-hour surgery to correct the deficiencies on the left side of her face. During the procedure, Siebert borrowed tissue from under Christine's arm and, using microsurgery, transplanted the tissue and surrounding blood vessels near Christine's ear.
"Initially, and to relocate the tissue, there is an eye and ear incision," says Siebert. "I lift the skin on the face and release the contractures, then fill the space. It's a mix of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery."
UW Health surgeon John Siebert used Christine Honeycutt's healthy tissue to replace facial tissue damaged by Parry Romberg syndrome.
"Build-A-BearTM" Approach to Treating Parry Romberg Syndrome
When discussing the procedure with his pediatric patients, Siebert uses the example of Build-A-BearTM.
"I tell the kids that, just like building a teddy bear, we're going to take some of the stuffing from one part and use that stuffing to fill the part that's missing some," he says.
Early intervention is vital to the success of this procedure.
"Many people let the disease run its course before treatment, but I tend not to operate with this approach," explains Siebert. "We don't know how severe they [the patients] will progress. If it progresses quickly, it can severely affect patient development and growth. From our experience, we know the disease process will not affect the new tissue. The new tissue seems to slow or terminate the disease process so intervening early is best. It is especially beneficial in the pediatric patient because the disease process adversely affects facial skeletal growth. The transfer of well vascularized tissue to the area seems to counteract that."
Christine is still slightly swollen today but the building blocks are in place from her first surgery. She will return to see Siebert after six months for revision surgery that may take one to two hours. During her second visit, Siebert will fine tune or "sculpt" the left side of Christine's face to mirror the other.
After returning to North Carolina, Christine has since resumed school and celebrated her 12th birthday. Her mother, Vicki Honeycutt, says Christine is very happy and misses the hospital. She is looking forward to her return in June to see Dr. Siebert and his staff again.
"Treating these patients is rewarding on multiple levels," says Siebert. "You're changing the lives of kids and entire families."