Woman takes on trek to thank surgeons who rebuilt her face

Friday 11 October 2019

Great Wall of China trek
  • Samantha Levy is raising money for Guy's and St Thomas'
  • Her face was rebuilt using hip bone and stomach muscles
  • One operation lasted eleven and a half hours

 A young woman will trek the Great Wall of China to thank the surgeons who rebuilt her jaw after it was destroyed by an aggressive tumour.

Samantha Levy, 30, is raising money for Guy’s and St Thomas’ by trekking the famous landmark for seven to eight hours a day for seven days. The feat is all the more remarkable because she has a hole in her hip after bone was taken from there to rebuild her face, meaning she had to learn to walk again.

Sam, from Wandsworth, had to undergo a series of operations – including one eleven and a half hour surgery – after being diagnosed with a rare tumour called odontgenic myxoma.

The first sign that anything was wrong came when she had an x-ray at a routine dentist’s appointment in October 2017. The dentist noticed a mass that hadn’t been there a year ago and referred her to doctors. Following a biopsy it was confirmed in December 2017 that Sam had a tumour which needed to be removed but it took further testing to identify the rare type.

The tumour had destroyed the left side of her jaw bone and teeth. Sam, who works in digital advertising, had major surgery on 5 February 2018 to remove the jaw bone and five teeth, and wire her jaw shut. She said: “I remember being really anxious before my first operation because I was told that when I woke up I wouldn’t be able to speak. And that for me was a real mind boggle because I talk a lot! That was quite challenging.

“With the wires on your jaw it is really difficult. You have to write things down, it is really hard to speak and you can’t brush your teeth.”

On 8 March 2018 Sam had a second operation to have her wires removed. However, after this surgeons discovered they would need to operate again to take out more of the jaw and another tooth and did so the following month.

It was in June 2018 that Sam had what she calls ‘my enormous surgery’ which lasted eleven and a half hours. During the marathon procedure, bone was cut from her hip and used to rebuild her jaw along with a metal plate. She also had muscles taken from her stomach to replace part of the gum.

Sam said: “About ten days before, my parents and I sat down with the surgeons. They explained everything that was going to happen. We had to have some models made of my hip as well as my jaw so they could plan the surgery.

“For about a week beforehand I stopped sleeping, I lost my appetite. I was petrified because I’d never known anyone to have an eleven and a half hour surgery. It’s huge and I knew that when I came out I was going to look really different.

“The operation was on Monday and I don’t remember anything until the following Saturday so I lost six days. I’ve seen photos of what I looked like but I’m quite thankful I don’t remember it.

“After that I had to learn to walk again. I’m quite proud of myself that I went from wheelchair to a zimmer frame to crutches and I was insistent that I walked out of the hospital unaided.”

Sam had a final operation in May 2019 to remove the metal plate that held her face in place along the jawline. She said: “I’ve got it at home in a jar! It’s like a badge of honour.”

Consultant oral maxillofacial surgeon Luke Cascarini operated on Sam. He said: "We are incredibly grateful that Sam wants to support Guy's and St Thomas' in this way. Her positive attitude shone through during everything that she went through so I know the trek will be another challenge she's determined to conquer.

"It's certainly one way for Sam to test out her new jaw and hip!"

Sam is now on the trek after flying out to China on 4 October. She said: “This is something I’ve always wanted to do but I actually decided to do it when I was in the hospital after my enormous surgery. Before I’d never had the courage or a reason to do it.

“I’m so excited. I’ve got a real new lease of life since I was ill. I was not particularly fit or active before but this really gave me that opportunity to take care of myself and I have been ever since.

“A lot of people say when you start your life again it’s usually when you’re much older and you’ve already lived a life. I am blessed to be able to take this opportunity and start a new life for myself in my thirties.”

To help Sam reach her fundraising target visit JustGiving.

Last updated: October 2019

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