Christian Roberts was as excited for his 12th birthday as any child would be. But this April marked a very special occasion. It was the first time he could express that excitement with a smile.
Twelve years ago, Christian was born deaf and with bilateral facial paralysis due to a rare genetic anomaly called CHARGE Syndrome. For his entire life, the happy, playful Dallas boy who loved video games and LEGO bricks couldn’t move his facial muscles to smile. Christian wanted nothing more than to better communicate with his family, and with others who don’t know sign language.
Christian gets a new smile
Last year, Christian came to the Seattle Children’s Hospital Craniofacial Center to get a new smile. In June 2013 Christian’s surgeon, Craig Birgfeld, MD, removed a small muscle in Christian’s chest. He connected one end of this muscle to Christian’s cheekbone, and the other end to the corner of his mouth, to form one half of a smile.
“It’s not a simple procedure,” Birgfeld says. “We spend a lot of time figuring out exactly where to place the muscle so that when it pulls, it makes a smile.”
Shortly after his first surgery, Christian’s facial muscles moved for the first time.
“I heard Christian running into my room laughing louder than I had ever heard,” his mother Molly recalls on Dallas Moms Blog. “He was signing, ‘Look, mom, my smile woke up!’ I proceeded to scream with joy and held my little guy tight, with tears running down my face. That tiny bit of movement was so long awaited and touched the depths of my heart beyond explanation. We were on cloud nine for weeks.”
The family returned to Seattle in December for the second surgery, when Birgfeld performed the procedure on the other side of Christian’s face. Then the family waited in suspense for the answer to the big question: would Christian get a smile for his birthday?
After months of progress, Christian is now able to produce a fully formed smile — just in time for his 12th birthday.