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My stay at HSHS

Parents Carolina Gonzalez and Sergio Serna say their lively daughter, Nicole, has always been an active and happy-go-lucky kid. Big sister and role model to 7-year-old brother, Max, mom and dad agree Nicole has always been more mature for her age, in part because of the challenges she faced at birth.

Born with unilateral congenital facial paralysis, Nicole, now 11, was unable to move the right side of her face, which drooped significantly compared to her left side. Unable to smile, or even completely close her right eye, Nicole couldn’t use her face to express emotion in conventional ways.

She underwent a pioneering, 12-hour facial reanimation operation performed in June 2021 by a team lead by Patrick Byrne, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Head & Neck Institute . Nicole was the first pediatric patient at Cleveland Clinic to undergo the complex procedure Dr. Byrne has been refining for years called a tri-vector gracilis free tissue transfer .

According to Dr. Byrne, who first examined Nicole in 2018 before coming to Cleveland Clinic in 2020, facial reanimation surgery can restore movement, function and symmetry to a patient’s face. This procedure can revitalize a person’s ability to talk, chew, drink and smile.

“Someone who is unable to express happiness or other emotions on their face often really struggles with their self-image because others are distracted by their face,” he explains. “Patients with facial paralysis are at much higher risk of depression. Restoring the ability to smile has incredible effects in improving a person’s mood and confidence.”