The Teenager Who Can Talk, Laugh And Sing - For The First Time

08/09/2011 16:52 | Updated 22 May 2015
The teenager who can talk, laugh and sing - for the first

This is the brave teenager who can finally face the world with a smile again after a series of pioneering operations to rebuild her face.

Katie Meehan was born with dozens of marble-like cysts in her mouth and cheek and doctors said she would never be able to talk.

But after a series of pioneering operations - by the same surgeon who saved the boy David - which began when she was just four years old, brave Katie can finally smile again.

It has cost nearly £50,000 to carry out the operations, but her mother Dawn McIntyre said it had been worth every penny.

Dawn, 48, who lives in Newcastle, said: 'I'm so proud of Katie. She is an incredible girl. After the operations her face is now smoother and she can talk a lot more clearly now.

'She attends mainstream school and lives a normal life. When she was born with the condition I was frightened for her, that she wouldn't be able to live a normal life. But thanks to the marvellous work of the surgeon, she can now do all that.'

Katie was born in October 1995 at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, weighing a healthy 5lb 12oz.

Scans during Dawn's pregnancy had shown an enlargement on the left side of her face.

At 20 weeks into the pregnancy she had been diagnosed with lymphatic malformation or cystic hygroma, when cysts grow in the head and neck area. Dozens of cysts had grown in Katie's mouth and left cheek, and some were dangerously near her windpipe.

Dawn, who also has a daughter Rebecca, 23, and a son Peter, 11, said: 'She was delivered by caesarean and has soon as I saw her I was shocked.

'The left side of her face was double the size of her left, and her tongue was so large it stuck out and was folded double.


Her mouth and cheek was so full of these marble-like cysts that it had caused massive swelling. 'Doctors said there were dozens of cysts of all different sizes and they told me she would never be able to talk, which was devastating.


Doctors also told Dawn that the cysts would swell with every illness and infection that Katie suffered, which could prove deadly as they could suffocate her.

Facial surgery means teenager can smile

Dawn added: 'I was frightened for what the future held for Katie. Not only did she look so different from other children, but they were also a life threatening risk for her.'

After nine weeks in hospital Dawn was allowed to bring her daughter home, but she found it very upsetting when she took her out in public.

Dawn said: 'People would stare and point and whisper about Katie and it used to break my heart. Some days she couldn't even swallow and she had to be fed by a drip because the cysts were obstructing her throat.

'But she had such a massive personality. She was such a happy baby and it was heartbreaking to wonder if she would ever find love, get a job or be a mother herself.'

When Katie was three years old doctors tried her on a new treatment trial where a drug was injected into the cysts to shrink them. But it was agonising for Katie and she was taken off the trial.

Then when Katie was five, her family were put in touch with Professor Ian Jackson, who operated on the boy David, and later adopted him.

David was saved from a Peruvian hospital and he had 100 operations to rebuild his face after it was eaten away by disease.

Professor Jackson said he could help and local fundraisers helped raise the costs of £45,000 for Katie to have a series of operations.

She had the first operation in spring 2000 at Guys and St Thomas's Hospital in London. Professor Jackson sliced open her left cheek and tongue and during the five hour operation he cut out some of the cysts.

Miss McIntyre said: 'Even after the first operation we could already see a difference. Katie could close her mouth and her tongue finally fitted inside her mouth. Her cheek was flatter too. It was amazing to see.'

In spring 2001 she had her second operation at the Portland Hospital in London and two years later, in 2003, she had a third operation.


It was amazing. Not only could Katie talk after these operations, but she could actually sing too. It was just wonderful to see. We had been told she would never talk, now she was chattering away just like any other normal little girl.


Facial surgery means teenager can smile

Katie may have another operation in the future as she still has some cysts near her windpipe. But she now lives a normal life and is currently studying at school.

Dawn said: 'She has so much confidence now. She has so many friends and even some male admirers too.

'When I look back at what she used to look like, it really is an incredible job what the surgeon has done. We can't thank him enough. He has given our daughter her life back.'

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