IOWA CITY, Iowa - A Utah teenager received a very special early birthday gift from a University of Iowa doctor after an 11-hour surgery last week. Doug Henstrom, M.D., completed the first pediatric facial reanimation surgery in the state on Thursday. As a result 15-year-old Natalie Wright can smile again for the first time in over a decade.
"It's exciting to have my smile back," Natalie Wright, who turns 16 next month, said. "This is what I want and this is my dream and it will be really exciting to start my junior year with a smile again."
Natalie lost her ability to smile after surgery to treat a brain tumor left her with facial paralysis at a very young age.
"This is a journey that's been really exciting because it's an improvement of her life," said John Wright, Natalie's father. "Most of the other surgeries and things that we've done have been just to save her life."
The Wright's learned of the potential to restore Natalie's smile after an informal chat with a neighbor in Utah.
"Our 78-year-old neighbor said: My niece's husband is doing that in Iowa," Dana Wright, Natalie's mother said. A short time later the family met with Dr. Henstrom via Skype.
"I love Iowa and Dr. Henstrom," Natalie said.
Although the complete results of the surgery wont be evident for another six to 12 months, John Wright said he can already see a change on his daughters face.
"You can see she's already got a tucked back smile," he said. "She kind of came out [of surgery] smiling, which is fabulous."
The Wright family plans to travel back to Utah later this week. There will always be a special place in their hearts for the state of Iowa, Natalie said.