But physically, Hennglise isn’t like other teens. Four years ago, when she was 12 years old, a benign tumor called an ameloblastoma, began growing inside of Hennglise’s maxillary sinus. What started out as a toothache, turned into a small bump that expanded from the size of a pea to the size of two grapefruits – nearly doubling the size of her face. Without treatment, the tumor would continue to grow and risk cutting off her airway.
Last month, Hennglise and her mother traveled from Haiti to Virginia Beach to seek treatment for the massive facial tumor pressing on her brain, pushing her left eye so far up and out of its socket that it has lost function. Through a partnership with Project HOPE and a generous donation from Larry O’Reilly, of O’Reilly Auto Parts, Hennglise was referred to Operation Smile’s World Care program, which arranges for patients with complicated deformities to travel with a guardian from their home country to the U.S. for surgical treatment. World Care patients stay with caring host families who provide a nurturing environment and necessary medical accommodations during the patient’s treatment and recovery, which can last a month to six months.
Sitting in the sunroom at her host family’s house a few days before her scheduled surgery, Hennglise and Yvrose, her mother, spoke through a translator.
“For me, as a mother, that tumor gives me a lot of problems,” Yvrose said. “I took her out of school last year, I don’t take her to the market anymore. It really hurts. Family used to visit, friends used to visit, but no one comes anymore.”
Yvrose sat across the room from Hennglise, watching her daughter occupied in a game of Bubble Burst. Hennglise didn’t look up when she said, “I have no friends. The other children, the bully me. They tell me I’m the only one in the world like this.”
On April 28, just a week away from her Sweet 16, Hennglise underwent a 12-hour surgery performed by Operation Smile Co-Founder and CEO Dr. William Mage and a team of medical professionals at Children’s Hospital of The Kings Daughters.
“Operation Smile is blessed with a strong relationship with Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters here in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area,” said Dr. Magee. “This hospital is able to handle virtually any tertiary care needed. Because of its strong talent pool in craniofacial surgery/plastic surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, pediatric anesthesia, state of the art operation room and postoperative and intensive care units, as well as superb nursing and medical professionals which staff these areas, virtually every aspect of Hennglise’s care is on exceptionally strong footing.”
In the days leading up to the procedure, Hennglise says she’s not nervous about surgery. Rather, she’s excited to see what she will look like.
“I want to look in the mirror and see I’m not the same,” she said quietly, looking up from her loaned iPad for just a moment.
In an operating room surrounded by nearly a dozen medical professionals, Dr. Magee operated on Hennglise, cutting out her tumor in its entirety. When he left the OR after more than 12 hours to tell Yvrose and the host family of the successful surgery, the usually subdued Yvrose nearly tackled Dr. Magee in excitement.
Both Hennglise and her mother have opened up to each other and to the Operation Smile family since the surgery. Yvrose says her relationship with her daughter has improved.
“I’m more comfortable around Hennglise. The largeness of her face made me and others uncomfortable,” Yvrose said through a translator. “Before, I was afraid to take her out and socialize, but not anymore.”
Hennglise, practicing multiplication flash cards around the dining room table, said she is most excited about starting school again and to show her friends how she looks now.
“I’m happy. My face is smaller. My mouth is different, but in a good way,” Hennglise said. “I know it will take longer to look better, but I’m very happy now.”
Hennglise still needs one more surgery to move her jaw into a new position. Dr. Neil Morrison, also at CHKD, will perform the surgery, side-by-side with Dr. Magee.
“The beauty and what we have seen already is that this shy young lady is now beginning to communicate and engage with individuals,” said Dr. Magee. “This is a tribute to the environments that she has now been exposed to with caring, loving individuals taking care of her. She can intrinsically understand that our community cares about her. “