College Student Kaley Stronger after Jaw Tumor Surgery

As a college freshman, the usual lists of stresses revolve around textbooks, but I was about to tackle a whole different lesson. It was a routine wisdom tooth removal that revealed what we originally thought was a cyst. After a biopsy and a thorough review, a benign odontogenic myxoma tumor was found, located in my right mandible (jawbone), which had gone undetected for years. I had no symptoms at the original detection, although a few months later my teeth on my right side began to loosen.

Kaley ClavellOf course, my parents’ initial concern was finding a trusted hospital with experienced doctors. By the guidance of amazing friends, we were led to three physicians who I consider my angels, Dr. Mark Urken, Dr. Daniel Buchbinder and Dr. Devin Okay. I arrived at my first appointment anxious and scared from unsettling advice from a facility prior to discovering Mount Sinai Beth Israel. When I first met this impressive team, I understood why so many people talked so highly of them. I was greeted by smiling faces and upmost confidence, which instantly calmed any nerves. The plan of action to tackle my tumor was explained with such precision by each doctor, and what his exact role was in the process.

Multidisciplinary Plan to Remove the Mandible Tumor

I was told I would have my right mandible removed along with the tumor, and replaced with my fibula bone from my leg. An exact replica of my jawbone would be produced through unique 3-D technology called Virtual Surgical Planning (VSP) to support the fibula. Six of my teeth on my lower right side would be taken out, as well as an artery, vein, and nerve from my leg, which would be transferred to my jaw, to regain feeling and restore blood flow. I would then have another surgery after I healed to have dental implants.

Drs. Urken, Buchbinder and Okay understood the importance of my education, and worked around my schedule to ensure I would be able to finish my spring semester, and recover in time for the fall. The idea seemed impossible to imagine, but sure enough, they stuck to their word. I underwent my surgery on July 13th, 2015, and spent a week in the Pediatric ICU at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. It is truly difficult to express the abundance of support and love I felt while in the care of my surgeons, and the entire Mount Sinai staff. I spent my 19th birthday in the PICU, where my doctors, nurses and musical therapists threw me a spectacular Hawaiian themed birthday party in the halls. It was the best birthday I’ve ever had!

To my surprise, within ten days of my extensive surgery, I was able to push myself to eat some solid food and walk without assistance. The weeks that followed included physical therapy for my leg, as well as various exercises to expand the range of movement my new jaw. With only six weeks of recovery time before I went back to SUNY Cortland for my sophomore year, I visited my doctors enough to ensure my health at school. I was equipped with plenty of tools to feel confident to go back on time. Dr. Buchbinder even made time for me on a Saturday morning, the day before I left for school.

Dental Implants to Replace Teeth Removed for Surgery

Feeling back to normal, in January 2016 I underwent a procedure for the first step of dental implants. Within a few days I was eating normally. Dr. Okay took all steps necessary to make my teeth look and feel better than ever. For the last time in June 2016 I had a small procedure to insert my temporary bridge, which Dr. Okay impressively shaped to fit me perfectly and it looks so real! After a few more visits I had my permanent teeth. Whenever I am asked how I am feeling, I consistently receive a shocking reaction- “I would never know anything happened to you!”

Grateful, Stronger and More Resilient After Surgery and Implants

A year ago my family and I could have never imagined where I would be now. I am feeling better than I ever have, with a positive outlook on life and immense gratitude for everyone who helped me along the way. I am forever grateful for Drs. Urken, Buchbinder and Okay and the staff at Mount Sinai Beth Israel for leading me on this journey. My fading scars are a reminder of growth, resilience and strength; qualities I could have never acquired without my team.

- Kaley Clavell