A man who was left with half a face after it was ravaged by cancer has had it rebuilt by a genius surgeon.
Tim McGrath, 38, was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma – an extremely rare form of soft tissue cancer – leaving him with a grape fruit-sized tumour growing on his face.
Medics managed to cut out the cancerous tumour, but his body rejected multiple attempts to rebuild it.
But after a year of living with exposed flesh, top surgeon Dr Kongkrit Chaiyasate heard about Mr McGrath’s plight, he agreed to help him – using skin from his leg and forearm to reconstruct his face.
Mr McGrath, from Michigan, is now enjoying every opportunity he is given and the reconstruction work on his face will continue in 2018.
He said: ‘After the operation to remove the tumour I was heartbroken, I didn’t realise that half of my face would be taken away and it wasn’t until I went to Dr Chaiyasate that I start to feel real hope again.
Tim McGrath, 38, was left with half a face after being ravaged by cancer. He is pictured left before cancer and right after reconstruction surgery
WHAT ARE SARCOMAS?
Sarcomas are a group of rare cancers affecting the tissues that connect, support and surround other body structures and organs.
Tissues that can be affected by sarcomas include fat, muscle, blood vessels, deep skin tissues, tendons and ligaments.
Sarcomas can develop in almost any part of the body, including the legs, arms and the trunk (torso).
They account for around one in every 100 cancers diagnosed in the UK. More than 3,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.
There are often no obvious symptoms in the early stages, although sufferers may notice a soft, painless lump under the skin or deeper, that can’t easily be moved around and gets bigger over time.
People should see your GP if they have a worrying lump or any other troublesome symptoms.
A lump the size of a golf ball or larger should be regarded as suspicious and needs to be investigated urgently.
‘I was covered in scars from previous surgeries which limited my options for reconstruction but we went ahead and the outcome has been incredible.
‘He reconstructed my face using skin and muscle from my left leg, left forearm, and a flap from my forehead, and skin graphs were used to help the healing process.
‘I currently can’t drink liquid, eat through my mouth, or pronounce certain words, however my quality of life has improved massively.
‘There are people who stare at me, mostly children who don’t understand, but I would hope that others look past what they can see.
‘My journey has been long and mostly inconceivable to most, but I have an amazing support group around me and I draw strength from them daily.
‘I have been through something horrific, but if what I’ve gone through can inspire people to live their lives with gratitude for the things they take for granted than it makes what I’ve gone through all worth it.’
Mr McGrath was first diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma in February 2014 after complaining of severe jaw pain.
An MRI revealed an egg sized tumour however Mr McGrath turned down surgery and spent the following 18 months seeking none surgical alternatives.
Medics managed to cut out the cancerous tumour, but his body rejected multiple attempts to rebuild it. He is pictured left with the tumour on his face and right after surgery
Unfortunately Synovial Sarcoma is resistant to many things, including chemotherapy, and the tumour continued to grow.
He added: ‘At the end of May 2015 the tumour doubled in size and I had to have a tracheotomy fitted to enable me to breathe and a feeding tube so I could eat, because the tumour had invaded the space in my mouth.
‘Heavy doses of radiation caused the tumour to start dying and shrink and parts started to fall off, eventually I got my mouth back and I could eat very thin pieces of food.
Mr McGrath is pictured before reconstruction surgery. The 38-year-old said he was left ‘heartbroken’ after waking up from surgery to find part of his face had disappeared
‘After the tumour shrank and the radiation treatment was over I had to wait a few weeks before they could remove the remaining mass.’
In October 2015, Mr McGrath was admitted to hospital where he remained for almost seven weeks following the initial 30 hour operation to remove and then reconstruct his face.
Mr McGrath said: ‘Before the surgery they gave me the worst case scenario, they said I would have to lose my left eye and my left ear, but I didn’t’ believe that was going to be necessary.
‘When I woke up I was in complete shock, as well as removing part of my face and bone structure, they had removed most of the muscle in my back, they had taken a rib, and they took part of my scapula and part of my shoulder too.
‘This was so that they could rebuild my bone structure and the surrounding area however my body rejected the first attempts.
‘Eventually I was discharged and the cavity was closed but over time the transplant kept shrinking and I experienced numerous infections.
‘There were so many times when I wanted to give up and at times it was difficult to find the strength to carry on.’
During his long journey towards recovery Mr McGrath made the bold decision to leave his original surgeon and was welcomed with open arms by Dr Chaiyasate – who he heard about through a friend – in April 2016.
He added: ‘I am fortunate enough that he practices within 12 miles of my parents’ house.
Mr McGrath, from Michigan, (pictured with his surgeon Dr Kingkrit Chaiyasate, right) is now enjoying every opportunity he is given and the reconstruction work on his face will continue
‘Dr C is a humanitarian, who dedicates his life towards giving and helping others, he is humble and has an amazing sense of humour, I consider him a great friend.
‘He has given me so much hope.
‘I’ve had over 20 surgeries to date and five of those have been with Dr C, none of which have been rejected.
‘Dr C now wants me to have a year off to relax and gain my strength back, let the swelling go down and just have fun in life.
‘I am definitely taking advantage of every opportunity I have to live.’
Dr Chaiyasate will continue with the reconstruction of Mr McGrath’s face next winter which will further help his speech and will give him the ability to eat and drink again.
Mr McGrath said: ‘My family and friends have been amazing and their fundraisers have helped me afford and endure the $40-50k that has had to come out of pocket.
‘I have been incredibly lucky to have insurance, the first eight weeks in hospital rang up a bill of $1.2 million alone.
‘I have now found the confidence to share my story and if my journey can lead to a happy life for others around me then I truly understand why I was chosen to walk this path.’