One half of his face looked his age — 24 years, and the other looked like that of a man almost thrice his age. Ali Dambos Laftah, a businessman from Babil, Iraq, suffered from a rare disease — Romberg syndrome — since the age of six. It made the right half of his face shrink abnormally.
Romberg syndrome is a rare disease of the face that results in weakening and shrinking of facial fat, muscles. The disease usually occurs between the age group of five and 15 years and keeps progressing for a few years before finally stabilising.
"Though it's a rare disease, his condition was far severe. There was skin thinning, lots of fat and muscle loss, and
the disease had also started affecting his bones," said Dr Sunil Choudhary, director, Institute of Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, Max Hospital, who led the three-member surgical team.
"The disease has no cure and its cause is also unknown. The only way to deal with the disease is to correct the deformity once the disease burns out," he added.
It took a team of three plastic surgeons (including Dr Raghav Mantri and Dr Prateek Arora) nine hours to correct Laftah's face.
"While lifting the layer of his skin, we could see the facial nerves. Normally, nerves are covered by fat and muscles, but in his case, there was a risk of cutting the nerves while dissecting skin," said Dr Arora, consultant aesthetic and reconstructive surgeon, Max.
"It's risky because any nerve injury can lead to loss of function in a particular area, like not being able to smile etc," added Dr Mantri.
The surgical process entailed lifting of the facial skin of the affected area, inserting the flap taken from his right thigh, connecting the nerves to restore blood supply and finally stitching the skin back.
A 20cm long and 12cm wide fatty tissue was taken from his right thigh to fill the gap. The nerves, which are about one millimeter in diameter, are stitched under a microscope.
"The thread that we use to stitch a single nerve of one millimeter diameter is half the size of a hair strand. It requires atleast 15 stitches to connect a nerve. The whole surgery is done microscopically and there's no room for any error," said Dr Choudhary.
Post surgery, Laftah is recovering well.
"The first three days are usually critical and he has passed that period uneventfully. He can lead a normal life now," said Dr Arora.
Laftah, who once could not stand to see his face in a mirror, is now happy to get his face back.
"Looking at the mirror was a torture once. For my entire adolescent life, I lived with a certain inferiority complex. But now it feels good," he said.
His elder brother, Abbas Dambos Laftah, 30, cannot wait to take him back home. "Most of his friends are married, and now it is time for us to search a bride for him," he said.