20/12/2011 10:52 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Boy With 'Frozen Face' Learns To Smile After Pioneering 12 Hour Operation

A little boy is learning to smile after pioneering surgery enabled his frozen face to move for the first time in his life.

Five-year-old Joe Henson was born with Moeibus syndrome which prevented him from moving his face to smile or frown. As a result, his parents had never seen him express joy or pleasure through a smile - until now!

Joe underwent a 12-hour operation at London's Royal Free Hospital, where muscle was transplanted from underneath his arms into both sides of his face. The procedure was carried out by plastic surgeon, Adriaan Grobbelaar, who told the Evening Standard:

"In order for the surgery to work, we have to keep the muscles alive in the face, so we join the blood vessels together to give a good blood supply.

"We also have to join the muscles to an alternative nerve in the face. It's quite complex surgery because the blood vessels are less than two millimetres in diameter so we use a powerful microscope to magnify them.

"The muscles in Joe's face have now started to work and he has begun to smile. These muscles will get stronger and stronger and Joe will learn how to use them. The nerves, on the other hand, could take up to two years to heal and work. We're really pleased with the results so far."

Joe's proud mum Sam, 35, said she could notice a difference in her son already:

"You can actually see a change in his face. He can move his mouth so that he can blow bubbles in his drink using a straw, he can open his mouth a little wider when cleaning his teeth, and his speech has become clearer.

"It's these little changes that are going to make a big difference in the long run."

Mr Grobbelaar is the only surgeon in the world to operate on both sides of the face in one continuous operation.

Let's hope his work will put a really big smile on little Joe's face soon!