Facial surgery at OU for the child no one wanted

BY SONYA COLBERG, scolberg@opubco.com Modified: January 15, 2011 at 1:12 am •  Published: January 15, 2011

The baby with no name was just two days old when her parents left her in a cardboard box outside a Chinese orphanage.

An elderly woman picked up the baby, with the note the parents tucked in next to the child, and took the tiny bundle through the gate of the orphanage just outside Shanghai. When workers gazed at the child, they saw one likely reason for her abandonment.

A large, black, hairy growth masked her eye and most of the right side of her face. In China, this giant hairy nevus was considered a sign of bad luck.

Orphanage workers also found the equivalent of $15 — a great sum for that country's citizens — and a note the parents scrawled in Chinese to their child: “We wanted you to have a better life than we could provide.”

For months, the child was overlooked by prospective new families. Then, one day after Amy and Ben Root of Oklahoma City received a “waiting child” list from an adoption agency, Amy Root asked an adoption counselor if a child might finally snuggle in their arms.

“We have a file for a 7-month-old baby that no one wants,” the counselor said.

Amy Root learned about the black mask on the side of the child's face. She wasn't deterred because, in an odd twist, she had just read an article written by the mom of a child with a nevus. She opened the file and saw the child's picture.

“I looked into those big brown eyes, and I fell in love,” Root said.

“I thought, ‘There she is. That's my girl.'”

The mask was not just a simple cosmetic flaw. Surgeons at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center say their research indicates the child's nevus was the largest one on the face ever reported and carried a 3 to 10 percent risk of developing into melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Surgery needed to be done quickly because the cancer risk increases significantly after a child's second birthday.

A new life, appearance

The Roots desperately wanted to bring the baby home to meet her new family, including a brother, now 16, and sister, now 14. But they worried about where she would get the best surgery.

Since a friend of Amy Root had assisted Dr. P. Lloyd Hildebrand, reconstructive surgeon at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center and the Dean McGee Eye Institute, she e-mailed him for advice. Her voice caught as she recalled his quick response.

“Oh, Mrs. Root,” he e-mailed, “You bring that baby home, and I'll be her doctor.”

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