Medical Moment: Nerve reconstruction

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 5:42 PM EDT
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Music plays a big part in Chris and Trust Stovah’s lives.

“I like music,” says Chris. “That’s where we met in the first place -- in a local church.”

But the music stopped when a fast-growing benign tumor on Chris’s jaw made it hard for him to sing.

“That teeth of that region, I couldn’t use to eat. It comes with severe pain.”

The tumor even made Chris limit his time outside the house.

“He can’t go to places without anybody asking him, ‘What’s going on with you here? What happened to you here?’” says his wife, Trust.

Surgeons removed the tumor from Chris’ jaw, but to do so they also had to remove a nerve, which meant Chris would lose sensation in a portion of his face and have difficulty eating or smiling. But thankfully, Dr. James Melville -- an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with the University of Texas Health Science Center -- had a solution to make sure that didn’t happen.

“What we call a micro vascular free flap, we brought that up and then connect, did the micro-vascular in the neck and then repaired his nerve at the same time,” says Melville. “So that surgery is pretty extensive.”

During a 12-hour surgery, Dr. Melville removed the tumor and rebuilt Chris’s jaw. Then, he reconstructed Chris’s alveolar nerve using Avance Nerve Graft to restore sensation to Chris’s jaw and mouth.

Recovery from the surgery is typically around 12 months. Chris got complete sensation back in his mouth and jaw in about nine months.

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