Face cancer patient releases album to thank 'extraordinary' staff

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Lee Michael Walton leaning on a piano

A singer whose face was rebuilt after being diagnosed with a rare cancer has recorded an album in tribute to his medical teams at Guy’s and St Thomas’.

Lee Michael Walton, 47, has undergone several complex operations on his mouth and face at Guy’s Hospital after it was found he had a tumour, known as chondrosarcoma, in the bone of his face.

His initial surgery left him unable to speak. However, determined to get his voice back, Lee underwent extensive speech therapy and vocal training.

Now, 15 years later the singer and musician has written, recorded and released an album, The Beginning Is Here. Lee is donating some of the proceeds to Guy’s and St Thomas’ as thanks to the medical team who he credits with saving his life.

In the CD cover notes, Lee highlights the “compassionate and caring nature” of two of his surgeons at the trust – Paul Roblin, consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon; and Ricard Simo, consultant head and neck surgeon.

The notes say: “To the NHS Staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in London. I cannot adequately express my gratitude.

“Special thanks to Ricard Simo and Paul Roblin, who were there overseeing everything for 11 years. You made me feel safe in your hands and your compassionate and caring nature was deeply appreciated, as is the phenomenal expertise of yourselves and your whole team. I would not be alive to make this album, were it not for you.”

Lee, who lives in Streatham in South London but is originally from Ystalyfera in the Swansea valley, was 33 and embarking on a musical career when he was diagnosed with the cancer. He underwent 21 hours of surgery to take out the tumour, which also removed more than half of his upper palate bone, gums and teeth.

Microsurgery techniques were then used to reconstruct his face, to allow Lee to close his mouth, speak and swallow.

The fibula bone (the smaller of the two bones in the lower leg) with the overlying fat and skin was transplanted to Lee’s face and shaped to replace the bone and tissue that had been removed. Some months later, dental implants were inserted into this bone to create his teeth.

Lee said: “The whole area of my face was rebuilt using bone and veins from my lower left leg. Afterwards, I couldn’t move my mouth, I couldn’t speak as I had a tracheostomy.

“I was just starting to establish myself as a singer and musician, and this diagnosis then surgery was an enormous blow.

“I was determined I was going to sing again, but there were times I was in tremendous pain, physically and emotionally. The surgeries changed how I looked, and I wondered if I would ever look normal again.

“Now, the reconstruction is hardly noticeable – it’s amazing.”

Lee worked with teams of speech therapists and other specialists to regain his voice, but for years avoided singing.

However, with support from singer friend Bonnie Tyler, who recommended her voice coach James Windsor, six years ago Lee started learning to sing again.

Lee said: “I told James – I bet it’s the first time you’ve worked with someone’s leg!”

“I decided to write an album about my experiences to explain some of what has happened to me. It’s a celebration of relationships and the potential to create positive change.

“I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for this extraordinary team of people.”

Paul Roblin and Ricard Simo said: “Our congratulations to Lee on his album release. It is an amazing achievement after this major surgery, and one with such a very long and difficult road to recovery. We hope his album is a great success.”

Lee’s album is available to buy on Amazon and HMV.

Last updated: July 2021

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