Toddler to Undergo Smile Surgery



By Ellen Kurt

DES MOINES, Iowa —It's easy to tell when Preston Tassi is upset. But when he's happy, it's a little tougher.

His mom, Sarah Tassi, says she and her husband, Jason have never seen Preston smile.

He was born with Moebius Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder.

“When he was born,” Tassi said, “right away [we] noticed the hand.”

Preston has only one finger on his right hand -- a symptom of Moebius.

Upon further examination, doctors determined Preston couldn't blink, look side to side or even close his lips around a bottle.

“As we feed him we have to hold his cheeks in,” Tassi said.

He's not slow. His dad said he shines at weekly therapy sessions. Like most one-year-olds, he's almost walking.

But without control of his lips and tongue, doctors said his speech and eating development will lag behind.

What doctors can do is restore some muscle function around his mouth through surgery. They'll take a muscle from his thigh and place it in his jaw. It’s called smile surgery.

Dr. Nate Noble, Preston's doctor at Blank Children's Hospital, says physical therapy can help, too.

“Certainly you hope with therapy and surgical interventions, that the Tassi family is working towards, you hope things get better,” Dr. Noble said.

Tassi said she's been told Preston can't have the surgery until he turns five and it's an expensive procedure.

“We’re assuming about $100,000,” she said. “That's kind of our goal right now.”

It's money the Tassis don't have. They've moved in with her parents to begin saving.

But Jason Tassi said he and his wife were committed the moment they met their bubbly little guy.

“It's unexplainable,” he said. “My mom always told me, you'll never understand how much you can love a child. And I kind always thought she was blowing smoke.”

Dr. Noble said doctors don't yet know why kids are born with Moebius Syndrome, or why the cranial nerves are damaged or missing.

“I would anticipate in the future as medicine catches up with Preston, he will have a lot to teach us,” Dr. Noble said. “But at this point, there's a lot of conditions where we just know that we don't know.”

In the meantime, the Tassis said they aren't afraid of hard work. And when Preston giggles, they say they will look in their little boy's eyes.

“You can tell in his eyes when he's smiling,” Sarah Tassi said.

“We just feel blessed to have him in our lives,” Jason Tassi said. “Every second of it.”

They have begun the saving and fundraising process.

They’re having a Blue Grass Festival Benefit for Preston on Sunday, June 9. It’s at the Saylorville Lake Sandpiper Shelter from noon until 9 p.m. There will be food, music and a silent auction. The Jaycees are coordinating a bags tournament.

Hy-Vee and Fareway have donated the food.

If you’d like to help the Tassi family save for Preston’s surgery, there is an account set up in his name at Veridian Credit Union.

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