The following guest post is by Andre Panossian, MD. Dr. Panossian is a Board-Certified, Pediatric Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon based in Los Angeles, CA. He specializes in treating facial paralysis, large vascular birthmarks (hemangiomas), burn/accident wounds, webbed fingers/feet, cleft lip and palates and more. Learn more about Dr. Panossian at DrPanossian.com, or connect with him directly on Twitter or Facebook. (Dr. Panossian is married to Right Start Mom Jill Simonian.)
“I have no idea how you do what you do.” My mother-in-law often tells me this. I usually laugh, shrug and say, “I don’t know.” Truth is, I don’t know how I’d not do what I do. I absolutely love what I do… and now that I’m a parent of two daughters, I think I’ve come to appreciate it even more.
What do I do? I like to say I help kids smile. (And I’m not referring to the rubber duckies I give to young patients when they visit…)
As a reconstructive surgeon who specializes in treating facial paralysis, I will tell you that seeing an adorable kid who can’t express emotion due to limited function in his/her facial muscles can sometimes be a tough thing because I’m a parent. As a surgeon, I rarely allow biological circumstances affect me (it’s my job to tackle these conditions and improve them). As a dad of two young daughters, I will admit feeling an immediate sense of parent-to-parent camaraderie with many of the families of patients who visit me… simply because, as parents, we all want our kids to thrive. In many ways, becoming a father has made me a more balanced surgeon… especially when it comes to treating facial paralysis.
What are the signs of facial paralysis?
Asymmetrical or lack of movement on the face… most frequently on the corners of the mouth and/or eyes.
What causes facial paralysis?
I will spare you pages and pages of scientific jargon and research results, but I will offer this: Some are born with it, some develop it due to traumatic nerve damage (birth trauma, brain tumor, adult stroke) and some cases result from a variety of rare syndromes and/or viral illness. There are still many unknown factors about facial paralysis, but we do know that it’s not necessarily hereditary.
How can you identify if facial paralysis is affecting your young child?
I usually tell parents to take extra notice if the child’s smile consistently looks like a sideways grimace of sorts, if you notice excessive drooling (when not teething, of course… indicating that the mouth is drooping on one side and causing a constant opening for saliva to spill out) and if one eyelid is having trouble blinking normally. Facial paralysis can be detected as early in infancy and toddlerhood.
The good news? Facial paralysis is treatable and can be improved. Is it reversible? Aside from some cases of viral infection (Bell’s palsy) or following brain tumor removal, no. However, through transplanting muscles from other areas of the body and head into affected areas [to take over the function of the paralyzed muscles], many patients see incredible improvement in their ability to express themselves through facial expression.
One of my most recent young patients was Maddox, who was born with Moebius Syndrome. When I first met him, he was a typical 5-year-old boy, lively and funny. Maddox was starting school soon and his parents made the tough call (as so many parents with fortitude must make when it comes to considering health options for their kids) – they decided that Maddox would undergo surgery in an effort to improve his facial paralysis.
The hard truth? There are no guarantees with any kind of surgery. Every kind of surgery has risk (I tell all my patients this). And, each case is different – no two patients will respond in exactly the same way. So far, Maddox has had an impressive response to his surgery even though final results can take many months to properly settle.
As a surgeon, I’m extremely pleased. As a father, this makes me smile. And that’s why I do what I do.
Dr. Panossian is conducting a one-day conference for those affected by facial paralysis (children and adults) in Los Angeles, CA on Saturday, November 7, 2015. Education, Q & A and the latest techniques for treating facial paralysis will be discussed. For more information, visit Facial Paralysis Center Conference 2015.