9-year-old boy returns to school following facial reconstruction

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Dr. James Bradley and Dr. Mark Mittler celebrate Simao’s return to school with his mom, Lisa Meco, and favorite super-hero, the Flash. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

It’s not every day that a little boy gets to thank the surgeons who put his face back together again after a difficult surgery – and take a photo with his hero, the Flash. But, that’s just what happened to 9-year-old Simao Meco at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Feb. 7.

Meco, who was joined by his mother, Lisa Meco, and 13-year-old sister, Maria, returned to Cohen Children’s to thank the two surgeons who performed a complex, six-hour surgery that succeeded in correcting the rare Tessier craniofacial clefts with which he was born. 

Dr. James Bradley, Meco’s facial reconstruction surgeon, is one of only five surgeons in the world with the training to perform this complicated procedure.

“Simao was born with Tessier craniofacial clefts, which means that parts of his face and skull were abnormally separated,” Bradley said. “Because of these deformities, Simao was unable to breathe and always felt that he was suffering with a bad cold. He was constantly at risk of infection, and was unable to see well because one eye pointed off to the side.” 

In order to correct Simao’s malformation, Bradley worked with Dr. Mark Mittler, co-chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Cohen. According to Mittler, “My part of this was to provide Dr. Bradley with access to the skull. Once we were able to achieve access, Dr. Bradley was able to take the necessary steps to re-align Simao’s face.”

As soon as he saw Meco, Bradley knew that he would have to perform the facial bipartition surgery. In simplest terms, he would have to split Simao’s face in half vertically, and then bring both sides back together with proper re-alignment. During surgery performed on a pro-bono basis at Cohen on Jan. 8, Bradley repositioned the affected eye to point in the proper direction; adjusted the sinus cavities, which were overgrown between Meco’s eyes, thus negatively affecting his breathing; and modified the structure of his nose. 

“I’m happy to report that Simao is healing so well that he will be returning to school tomorrow,” Bradley said.

Lisa Meco recalled how difficult it was to watch her friendly, outgoing son suffer from the cruel taunts of bullies.

“I’m so proud of Simao,” she said. “He was brave enough to come home every night and tell me what the other kids said about him. It hurt when he would come home and tell me how it felt to be bullied. He is incredible.”

Because Meco listed the Flash as his favorite superhero, his doctors felt that a surprise meeting should be arranged. So, after Meco described his feelings about going back to school with a new face, there was a knock at the door. And, to his surprise, the Flash, himself, raced into the room to present his biggest fan with an Xbox game and to wish him a “speedy” recovery. 

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