September 17, 2021 by John Fernandez
Watch Now: Neissa’s Life-Saving Surgery
(VIDEO: A team of specialists discusses the complexities of removing a massive tumor from 8-year-old Neissa Azor’s face.)
When Neissa Azor crossed paths with Elaine Lewis on the streets of Port Au Prince, she had no idea that her life would be forever changed. Neissa, an 8-year-old, was suffering from fibrous dysplasia, a rare bone disorder that causes fibrous tissue to develop in place of normal bone. Left untreated for nearly five years, a massive tumor had developed in the right side of her face and was protruding through her mouth.
Ms. Lewis, a surgical technician in California who volunteers at Haiti’s Adventist Hospital, took notice of Neissa during her most recent missionary trip to the island. She promised Neissa’s mother she would try to get her the help her daughter needed once she returned home. After months of making fruitless calls to hospitals across the country, a friend suggested she contact Calvin Babcock, chairman of the board of Baptist Hospital of Miami, and an active participant in missionary work in Haiti. Ms. Lewis did, and she says, “the rest is history.” Within two weeks, Neissa was approved for treatment at Baptist Hospital and travel arrangements were made. As a faith-based, not-for-profit healthcare organization, Baptist Health South Florida provided charity care and Neissa’s surgery through its compassionate care program.
Once in Miami, Neissa was evaluated by a team of specialists, led by Joseph McCain, M.D., an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with Baptist Hospital. The group evaluated and planned the next steps in the complex process to surgically remove Neissa’s tumor and reconstruct a large section of her craniofacial structure. Neissa’s tumor was growing very quickly, and surgeons knew they needed to remove it as quickly as possible to prevent it from blocking her airway.
A radiological team produced a host of images to help map out the best course of action for surgery. A 3-D model of Neissa’s head was made to give doctors a full-scale depiction of what they were facing. Before doctors could perform surgery to remove the tumor, they had to insert breathing and feeding tubes to make sure these vital functions could continue. Then, a procedure known as vascular embolization was performed. The procedure cuts off the blood supply to the tumor to help minimize the amount of bleeding during surgery.
On September 30, Neissa underwent 12 hours of surgery to remove the tumor. Just two weeks later, Neissa, her team of doctors and Elaine Lewis came together to talk about this life-saving process. Many of the specialists involved called it “one of the most difficult, but rewarding cases they had been involved with.”
The Baptist Health South Florida News Team has been following Neissa’s story and brings you the first part of her journey. Watch it now.