A huge, deadly tumor was removed from the face of a six-year-old Ethiopian girl by Manhattan physicians. Nagalem Alafa, from a tiny hamlet in the East African nation. 

Nagalem had surgery on June 23 at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. Her physicians stated during a press conference that the complex surgery involved face and neck nerve dissections, followed by a meticulous excision of the tumor. “Her blood volume is just 1 liter, and you may lose 300-400 milliliters in a minute or two by accidentally puncturing these blood vessels,” said Milton Waner, MD, head of the Vascular Birthmark Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital, at a press conference. “This is one of the most difficult operations we’ve ever performed.”

The benign protrusion, known as a vascular malformation, appeared after her birth. Nagalem’s family did not have access to medical treatment, and the girl’s tumor grew in size gradually making it difficult for her to breathe and swallow. Her physicians warned her that if the tumor was not removed it could result in death.

However, the little girl’s life was changed when a US government official met her while on a trip in Ethiopia and assisted her family in locating physicians who could cure her. After a year of searching, he discovered Milton Waner and his wife, Teresa O, MD, one of the world’s few surgical teams specialized in complicated pediatric vascular abnormalities. The doctors decided to take on Nagalem’s case and perform the operation for free while Lenox Hill Hospital and Northwell Health paid all hospital expenses and post-operative care.

“This is why I became a doctor,” said Dr. Waner. “Clearly, we assist individuals on a daily basis, but this was on such a big scale.  We were very concerned about this before to surgery, wondering how we would get around it,” Dr. Waner said. “This isn’t going to be easy.” While in New York City awaiting the surgery, Nagalem visited a few sights including Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, Saks Fifth Avenue, and various stores and restaurants in Midtown. But it was the escalators at Target that she was most pleased with.

“Her personality has shown wherever she’s gone,” Dr. O said of  Nagalem “We feel very fortunate to have been a part of her journey.” The operation was a success, as surgeons removed a cantaloupe-sized tumor from Nagalem’s face.  

Her father Matios Alafa Haile who had traveled to New York with Nagalem, for the operation, expressed gratitude to God that everything went well. “I was weeping earlier, but now I’m happy and thanking God and the doctors,” he said via a translator. “He is grateful for all the doctors have done for his little girl.”

According to ABC7 News, Nagalem will need a second minor operation to remove a tiny piece of the remaining tumor beneath her tongue. The residual edema will also subside after a few months, according to experts. Nagalem is prepared to return home on July 14. And, for the first time, she’s relaxing and having fun.

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