Craniofacial microsomia: A young boy transformed after surgery

Mavrick before surgery

Seven-year-old Mavrick Gabriel of Kenai, Alaska could be described as being “beyond his years.” He’s compassionate in a way that you don’t often see with young children, and he wants to educate others about his birth defect, craniofacial microsomia, and to help kids in the process.

Mavrick was born without a left ear and with a very small jaw that did not have a joint on one side.  He can’t eat solid foods, has to use a feeding tube and his speech is affected. In June 2012, Gabriel and his family invited television cameras to capture a surgery—one of dozens he’s endured—that helped move him closer to having a jaw.  But he doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him. “Most kids never have to go through this and I’d like to help other people with what I’m going through,” Mavrick said.

What is craniofacial microsomia?

Seattle Children’s leads the nation in treating craniofacial microsomia, which is the second-most-common birth defect in the world. Over the past five years, Children’s has treated more than 400 children, and physicians perform an average of 76 surgeries for the condition.

Treatments for craniofacial microsomia

Children’s is also a national leader in performing distraction osteogenesis, the procedure Mavrick underwent last summer and that was included in the TV story.

“Not that long ago, 15 to 20 years ago, there were very few treatment options,” said Richard Hopper, MD, surgical director of the Craniofacial Center and Mavrick’s surgeon. “People would try to make these breaks, add bone and rib and it was much more challenging, and very hard for the patients to go through.”

Distraction osteogenesis is used to increase the size of a child’s lower jaw with better results and less surgeries than older methods.  The procedure moves two segments of a bone slowly apart in such a way that new bone fills in the gap.

Mavrick after

With that surgery, he moved one step closer to a huge goal – eating steak and pizza.  “And probably apples and pretty much every hard food that’s ever been invented,” Mavrick said.

Jamie, his mother, said that Mavrick remains positive despite all of the medical visits.  “He always says, ‘It’s one more step closer,’” she said. Mavrick’s teachers tell her he’s the most confident child that they’ve ever seen.  He spends time in class praising other children’s work, and helps them feel more self-assured.

Hockey player, musician

Since the KING 5 special aired, Mavrick had one additional surgery to repair the side of his mouth, known as macrostomia repair, at Seattle Children’s. He’s able to eat things that he hasn’t before, like chicken, but still uses the feeding tube.

Children with macrostomia (wide mouth) need surgery to make a complete ring of muscle around their mouth. Mavrick will also need a final jaw surgery at maturity, according to Hopper.

Mavrick Playing Hockey“His face looks more symmetrical and people who haven’t seen him for awhile say there’s a noticeable difference,” Jamie said. Mavrick has started guitar lessons, is playing hockey and recently learned how to do a Mohawk turn, a move that allows players to change directions without losing any speed.