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.”
Now, more than a year later, the baby has a name — Margaret or “Maisy” — a new family, a new country and a new appearance.
The Roots' search for experts to handle their new child's medical issue led them to a team of specialists with OU Medical Center that, along with Hildebrand, includes reconstructive surgeons Dr. Ivan Wayne and Dr. Jose Sanclement.
At just 2 years old, little Maisy bopped in to visit her doctors, always carefully selecting her apparel. On one visit, she wore matching pink corduroy pants, button-down shirt and tutu. She carried her ever-present tube of lip balm that she applies to her heart-shaped lips liberally and often.
Wayne would lead a major operation that would resemble reconstruction of a cancer survivor's face.
“When you have such a small, beautiful girl like this, it's challenging to contemplate how you're going to put this all back together and make her look even better than she did before,” he said.
The team planned to insert little balloons to stretch the skin, then cut out the nevus and reposition the adjacent skin.
On surgery day Dec. 6, Maisy slid a surgical mask on her Woody “Toy Story” doll and called out to the doctors and nurses, “Let's go!”
Nine hours later, Maisy came out of surgery.
“The surgery went extremely well,” Wayne said. He said it may take 12 weeks for the healing to be complete and reveal the full results.
“I saw that smooth little cheek where it had been dark and hairy,” Amy Root said, “I saw that smooth, kissable cheek.”
Wednesday, doctors plan to open up the right eye and reshape the skin on the eyelid. Maisy's eye area was especially risky because of the possibility of causing lazy eye, though doctors now feel confident her vision and muscle control will be normal. A little more surgery may be needed.
Now physicians and her parents say they're seeing a remarkable recovery for the former baby nobody wanted — the child everybody loves.
“We always told her she was smart and beautiful,” Amy Root said.
“She was beautiful before and she's even more beautiful now.”