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4 May 2020

Teacher has surgery to reconstruct jaw after rare tumour removed

A local teacher is recovering after undergoing surgery to create a new jaw from a bone in her leg.

Gillian Wood underwent the procedure after a rare tumour called Ameloblastoma was discovered in her lower jawbone. Although not cancerous, it was aggressive and affecting tissues in the surrounding area.

During the intricate 13-hour operation at Sheffield’s Hallamshire Hospital, surgeons removed part of Gillian’s jaw and used bone from her fibula for reconstruction.

Four months on, Gillian is recovering well and looking forward to being back with pupils at Greenhill Primary School once it reopens. She said she wanted to tell her story to raise awareness of the disease and recognise the treatment she has received.

Gillian, aged 46, lives in Woodseats, and has a husband, Rob, and children Joe and Erin. She was first seen at Charles Clifford Dental Hospital last August for a suspected impacted wisdom tooth with a possible cyst in her jaw.

Gillian explained: “I’d had earache, pain and tingling in my jaw for a few months and had noticed a lump behind my molar. The CT scan showed a mass in my jaw that had eaten away quite a lot of jawbone. I had a biopsy and had to wait ten days to see if it was cancer or not, which was as awful as it sounds.

“Then I was told it was Ameloblastoma, thankfully benign but locally aggressive and it was happily munching its way through my jawbone, or right mandible, and soft tissue.”

Led by Mr Muzzammil Nusrath, three surgical teams, specialising in head and neck, plastic surgery and dental work, were involved in Gillian’s operation – a fibula free flap jaw resection.

The procedure involved taking bone from the fibula – the outer and smaller of the two bones between the knee and the ankle – along with an artery, vein and soft tissue. The bone was shaped to match, as closely as possible, the piece of the jaw that was removed.

Once this was complete, the artery and the vein from the leg were attached to an artery and vein in the head and neck area under a microscope. The new jawbone was fixed in place with plates and screws and covered with the soft tissue. Skin, soft tissue and muscle from Gillian’s leg were also used to rebuild her gum and parts of her mouth.

After the surgery, Gillian was taken to intensive care overnight before being transferred to the ward.

Due to the swelling, she had both a breathing tube and nasal feeding tube for ten days and during that time could not speak, communicating only by writing notes.

Gillian said: “I was looked after by nurses, doctors, surgeons, physiotherapist and speech therapists whilst in hospital and the care I received was outstanding.

“Taking my first breath naturally after breathing through the tube made me cry as it felt so good.

“I had to learn to swallow and eat with a mirror in front of me as I wasn’t quite sure where my mouth was and I dribbled a lot! Nothing was too much trouble and everyone was so kind. I thought I knew how hard nurses work, but I had no idea!

“Everyone was just so fantastic and I made excellent progress. Tomato soup was the first thing I tasted properly after being tube fed and it was heaven!”

Gillian was well enough to be discharged after 12 days, when she had expected to be in hospital for a month.

On returning home, she had to inject herself with blood-thinning drugs for six weeks at home, and is still doing exercise for her leg, ankle and jaw.

She continued: “I will be scanned regularly for years now as there is a 10% chance of the tumour returning, but they will catch it if it does. I am still very tired and only started driving again recently. Talking is still painful and, of course, I completely overdo that so I am learning to be quiet!

“All in all, the expert care and support I am still receiving from Mr Nusrath and my family, friends and colleagues has made this experience a lot better than it could have been.

“It has been very scary but I have found a strength I didn’t know I had and, in many ways, it has been a really positive thing as it does make one take stock and I am very lucky to have the support system around me that I have.

“Most of my nerves in my jaw were left so I should get feeling back in my lips, teeth, gums and cheek over time but part of my tongue will be numb forever. I am still on a soft diet and chewing is painful but I am learning to love soup, smoothies and lots of mashed potato. Eventually, I will be able to chew properly and I can’t wait to eat without it hurting!

“My main motivation for sharing is to raise awareness. My tumour is very rare but if I had known about it it could have been caught earlier. Also, staff at Charles Clifford and the Hallamshire have been absolutely amazing and I’d really like to let people know how lucky we are to have such amazing medical facilities in our wonderful city.”

**Copy courtesy of Deborah Wain at Sheffield’s Active8 magazine**


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