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Saving Savana: Reconstructive surgery restores child’s face

More than a year after she was hit by a truck, Savana Patterson has returned to her normal life. Intensive reconstructive surgery made it possible.

Raising his right hand over his face, Isaac Patterson's eyes welled beneath his red and black-rimmed glasses. His emotions were as erratic as an over-tired infant.

Through his West African accent, Mr. Patterson detailed a tragic January 2017 event that involved his 7-year-old daughter, Savana, while she lived with her grandmother in Ghana. A truck lost control and barreled into her and a 12-year-old girl as they waited for the school bus. Savana's skull and left eye socket were fractured. Her brain could be seen pulsating through the skin.

"The other girl didn't survive. She did," Mr. Patterson said, pointing to Savana. "January 15 was supposed to be a special day because it is my son's [Bryan] birthday. Unfortunately, it was a tragic day."

Disaster turned into joy more than a year later. Mr. Patterson decided not to seek Savana's facial reconstruction in Ghana, and instead brought her to his home in Floral Park. Soon, she met Nicholas Bastidas, MD, a pediatric plastic surgeon at Cohen Children's Medical Center. Dr. Bastidas performed the reconstructive surgery on June 4, giving back Savana's vibrant smile and boundless energy.

"She had a pretty significant brain injury," Dr. Bastidas said. "It's a miracle that she is here walking and talking, and able to recover the way she did. It's proof of her resilience."

Bringing Savana home

After Savana's accident, doctors placed her in a medically induced coma. She needed immediate surgery to stay alive.

Mr. Patterson got the news miles away in Floral Park by a phone call.

"After she survived and came out of the induced coma, I was very, very appreciative," Mr. Patterson said. "I believe in the Lord. And I believe in medicine. So, I knew she was going to be OK."

Once Savana was healthy enough to travel, Mr. Patterson brought her to the US.

A delicate four-hour procedure

For adults, reconstructive surgeons can typically replace damaged bone with titanium plates. Kids have the advantage of bone and tissue that are still developing.

"We had to do something to protect her brain and rebuild her eye socket, as well as improve her facial aesthetic," said Dr. Bastidas. The surgical team used a high-resolution 3D analysis to map out Savana's facial defect. Dr. Bastidas removed a section from the back of Savana's skull and sliced it into two pieces. He returned one piece to its original place and inserted the other into her forehead and the top of her eye socket.

The entire procedure took four hours.

"In 3D, you can really tell where the defect is and what is needed," Dr. Bastidas said. "I can cut using a computer before I go operate. [The 3D system] allows you to do precise reconstruction within 1 mm of accuracy.

"She had a dramatic recovery. She wanted to go home a few days later and I kept her one extra day to be safe."

Moving forward

Savana again looks like herself. She talks like herself and has returned to her normal life. This experience has inspired her to become a doctor.

During summer break, Mr. Patterson said he will take her to Central Park and the New York Aquarium. Having her home has changed his life, too.

"To tell you the truth, I wasn't too healthy without her around," he said. "I'm re-energized to be myself again."

Dr. Bastidas said Savana may need additional plastic surgery when she is fully grown. But for now, she can enjoy being with her family.

"It's a great story with a happy ending," Dr. Bastidas said.

"She had a pretty significant brain injury. It’s a miracle that she is here walking and talking, and able to recover the way she did. It’s proof of her resilience."
— Nicholas Bastidas, MD
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