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Fill your basket and savor life

A lumpy growth the size of a golf ball that evolved on the upper left side of Sophia LaMattino’s face had become infected and painful, making the young girl from Hanford especially self-conscious.

“I just wanted it gone,” said Sophia, 8, softly.

The growth needed to be cleaned and removed. “Otherwise it would keep flaring,” said Dr. Peter Witt, medical director, pediatric plastic surgery.
Surgically eliminating the cyst, however, would be challenging – and potentially risky. The inflamed mass developed in the body’s largest salivary gland (parotid gland), and the major facial nerve that controls expression ran through it. “The facial nerve would need to be dissected,” said Dr. Witt.

“I knew Sophia’s face could be permanently damaged,” said Tracey LaMattino, Sophia’s mom. “It was a frightening thought.”
But after talking more to Dr. Witt and Dr. Michael Dunham, medical director, pediatric otolaryngology, who would perform the procedure together, Tracey and her husband, Brandon LaMattino, concluded surgery was the best option.

“Dr. Witt is extremely honest and Dr. Dunham explains things very well,” said Tracey of the experienced surgeons. The family has a long history with the Hospital, where Sophia has received treatment since she was a baby.

Diagnosed with Oculo-Auriculo-Vertebral (OAV) syndrome, or Goldenhar syndrome, this rare congenital defect affects mainly one side of the face (muscles and bones), the palate, eyes, ears and the vertebral column. Severe forms may include kidney and heart dysfunctions.
Over the years, Sophia has experienced various head, neck, respiratory, intestinal and other associated complications, undergoing nine surgeries. The left side of her face is a little smaller, and her right ear has reduced hearing.

Due to the syndrome, bits of skin, cartilage and muscle that didn’t fuse properly created the cyst. “It’s more treacherous to operate on the facial nerve in a baby or child because it’s still developing, but the principles are the same,” said Dr. Witt. “Timing depends on the infected tissue. Normally we would wait for the child to catch up in growth and then operate, but Sophia’s infection changed that.

Dr. Witt and Dr. Dunham successfully removed the cyst, with no negative effects. “It was a complicated, delicate surgery – they did an amazing job,” said Tracey, adding that the pediatric specialists will continue to monitor Sophia as she grows.

Now when the once self-conscious little girl looks in the mirror, the only image she says she sees is “a beautiful face.”

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