Doctors Make Jaw For 7-Year-Old Girl From Her Rib Bones

Lexi Melton, 7, was born without a lower jaw, but with the help of Seattle Children's Hospital, her body was able to generate new bone to grow one.

After nearly four years of surgery, doctors were able to 'grow' a bottom jaw for seven-year-old Lexie Melton.

While the procedure to expand the bottom jaw is quite common, doctors say Lexi's case was especially difficult due to the severity of her jaw. In fact, Lexi was born without one.

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Her mother Lisa Skylynd said that doctors discovered an imbalance of amniotic fluid in her womb when she was 27 weeks pregnant. Skyland said, "It caused my body to feel like she should be born so there were some tricky moments."

Melton needed assistance breathing since birth, four weeks premature.

The doctors slipped a tube through her nose and into her trachea the moment she was born. Three days later, doctors inserted a tracheotomy tube through a minor incision in her throat to help her breathe. She also relied on a gastronomy tube, an opening on the outside of the stomach that delivers nutrition directly into the body to survive.

Skyland said the tubes were connected to her body by Velcro, causing her to be more susceptible to infections than most children.

Of course, her appearance also made her stand out among most children, but Skylynd said she always encouraged Melton to engage them in conversation: "Just because our attention is drawn to things that look different, doesn't mean we're looking at it in a negative perspective. People are interested in you, and they want to know more -- take it as a positive."

"When she was three years old, [doctors] felt she was old enough that it was a good time to work on her jaw," Skylynd said.

Skylynd told that that's when Dr. Richard Hopper, surgical director of Seattle Children's Craniofacial Center began mandible distraction, a complex reconstructive procedure.

Doctors began by surgically implanting rib bones into Melton's jaw. After it healed, Melton had another surgery to break the bone, and insert an external hardware, which also had a screw her parents could reach from the outside of her body.

Melton's parents then turned the screw twice a day to move the bone further and further apart.

As the bones moved further away, Lexi's body would be forced to grow more bone, and create a larger jaw.

The process was painful, physically and emotionally, Skylynd said.

"It was very challenging for her and us, but she's a strong little girl. She pulled right through it." 

"Her surgery was successful to grow out her jaw, but it still does not have a movable joint," Skylynd said to "Her teeth still can't open and close, so she can't sustain herself nutritionally."

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While her jaw is still causing her some problems, she has begun drinking and speaking.

Skylynd told that Melton's next round of major surgery is scheduled for 2017, where doctors will attempt to create a joint in her jaw to give her more mobility and ultimately, more independence.

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