A press conference at the School of Dentistry brought reporters from three local television stations and a newspaper to learn about a young woman from the Philippines who has a much brighter future thanks to facial reconstructive surgery.
When Maritess Emalon arrived in Chapel Hill in June, she had been unable to move her lower jaw for 15 of her 18 years and weighed only 60 pounds.
At the age of 3, Maritess fell down some stairs in her hometown in the Philippines, Bacolod City. Her lower jaw was badly broken on the left side, at the point where it hinges to the skull. Her parents took her to a local hospital, but doctors there said there was nothing they could do to help her. And even if the hospital had been able to help, Maritess’ parents could not afford to pay for basic health care, let alone surgery.
As her injury healed, new bone growth fused her lower jaw to her skull and locked it into place. It left her chin far behind the normal position, so that she appeared to have no chin at all. Her teeth became severely decayed because brushing them was impossible. And the lack of mobility of her jaw made it very difficult for Maritess to eat; she managed to eat only by pushing food through the right side of her mouth with a finger.
But in April 2001, Maritess, who had been working as a maid, was brought by her employer to a medical mission run by a California-based organization called Christians in Action. There Larry Parworth, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who had been trained at the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, diagnosed her condition. He checked at hospitals in the area and concluded that none had adequate staff or facilities to provide the complex surgery and follow-up care that Maritess needed. Without such care, painful tooth infections would eventually kill her.
So, Parworth called the surgeon who had trained him, Tim Turvey, chair of oral and maxillofacial surgery in the School of Dentistry and UNC Hospitals. Because of the great need in this case, Turvey and UNC Hospitals agreed to provide medical care to Maritess for no charge.Christians in Action paid for the cost of bringing Maritess and her interpreter from the Philippines to UNC, and the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill provided housing.
In late June, Turvey performed a major hours-long operation to unlock Maritess’ mandible, move her chin forward to its normal position, and remove teeth that were too decayed to repair. That surgery was followed by months of physical therapy, to help Maritess learn how to use her jaw again, and follow-up visits with Turvey. Now Maritess has recovered to the point that she plans to leave Chapel Hill this Friday, October 26. First she will spend a month in California as a guest of Christians in Action. Then she will return to her hometown, where she will live in a charity-run home called the Calvary Chapel Bacolod for the next year or two. She will also be attending school, with support from Christians in Action.
(Tom Hughes at UNC Hospitals Public Affairs contributed to this story.)