Miracle surgery: How doctors restored a Chennai youth’s face after a massive accident

Faheem’s recuperation is proof of how a combination of cutting-edge diagnostics, advanced technological tools and sound surgical skills of a doctor can save a trauma patient from a life-long reminder of their accident.
Miracle surgery: How doctors restored a Chennai youth’s face after a massive accident
Miracle surgery: How doctors restored a Chennai youth’s face after a massive accident
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When 23-year-old Faheem Shaikh Mohammad was rolled into the ER at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai last year, it could not have been a more nightmarish end to his birthday. Crossing the OMR, Faheem was hit by biker and dragged by a bus on the road for several meters, and left with so many injuries that his recovery seemed impossible. His face was crushed. Yet, just nine months later, Faheem smiles and poses for pictures. There seems to be no trace of the injuries that were so severe that even his mother could not recognise him before his emergency surgeries.   

“Actually, it feels like the accident never really happened. It just feels like a bad dream,” Faheem beams. “If you have scars after an accident. You look at the scars and it reminds you of those things,” he explains. However, the reconstruction of his facial bones was done so meticulously that there is not a single scar to remind him of that terrible, traumatic event.

On September 25 last year, Faheem was crossing the OMR in Chennai, a few kilometres from Apollo Hospital, when he was hit by a speeding biker. As the biker, who was allegedly drunk, was overtaking a bus on the left side, Faheem couldn’t see it before it crashed into him, pushing him under the bus. His backpack then snagged on the underside of the bus, and he was dragged for nearly 20 metres.

The resulting set of injuries was nothing short of horrific. In the initial impact, his ribs were broken, and one lung was punctured. In being dragged by the bus, his left hand was broken, the flesh of his left shoulder scraped off and the bone there chipped, and his eye, injured and disoriented. His face was a mass of cracks and fractures in nearly every bone: the upper and lower jaws, the cheek bones, the bones above and below his right eye, the joints of the lower jaw and the nose. “Faheem had suffered what we call pan-facial fractures,” explains Dr JA Nathan, the maxillo-facial surgeon who reconstructed Faheem’s face and helped him regain the normal life he enjoyed before the accident.

After his colleagues repaired his lung and brought him to a stable condition, grafted skin onto his abraded shoulder, and fitted a metal plate onto the broken left hand, it fell to Dr Nathan to restore Faheem’s face, to make him recognisable to all his family and friends once again.

“With such a patient, unless you treat him perfectly, he would lose the life he had,” explains Dr Nathan. “He would have a deformed face, not even be able to open his mouth. He wouldn’t be able to chew his food. He wouldn’t be able to speak normally. He would not be able to breathe properly, as his airways would be getting blocked. He would have impaired vision because of fractured eye bones. And he would look like a totally different person itself.”

A 3D Image of Faheem’s skull before surgery

Going into such a complex surgery, explains Dr Nathan, he and his team had three goals: to return Faheem to complete facial functionality, to reconstruct his face exactly as it was before the accident, and to do all this while minimising the trauma and scarring of the surgical procedure itself. “Faheem is so happy at the end of the day, because his colleagues cannot believe that he underwent so much surgery as they can’t even see a single scar,” the doctor says.

How this miraculous recovery was possible

Dr Nathan credits a combination of cutting-edge diagnostics, advanced technological tools and sound surgical skills for the success of Faheem’s treatment. “Nowadays we can do very advanced three-dimensional CT scans, where we can recreate the face, see how it is fractured and how it should look. The diagnostic technology is very advanced,” he says.

Dr JA Nathan, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, with Faheem.

He adds that major advances in the construction of titanium micro and mini plates also mean that facial bones can be sufficiently reinforced without the patient even feeling the presence of these metal plates under his skin. Faheem attests to the significance of this. He points out that though Dr Nathan informed him that he had multiple plates fixed with 28 screws on his facial skeleton, he cannot feel any of them under his skin, unlike the metal plate inserted into his left hand.

Finally, Dr Nathan explains, the key to minimising the trauma of surgery itself was to access and repair the facial bones without marring any external part of the face. “We repaired the cheek bones, upper jaw and lower jaw through the mouth. To reach the joint of the lower jaw, we made a very small scar behind the ear. So even that scar is not visible. For the plating, the upper rim of the eye, we went through the eyelid line, so that when the patient opens the eye, the scar is in the eyelid. As for the lower rim, we went through the conjunctiva. So, the patient does not have any visible scars,” he says.

The result, says Faheem, is that the birthday that should have felt like a nightmare, feels instead like a blessing. “I don’t see it like I almost lost my life on my birthday. I feel that I got my life back on my birthday. In a way, it was the best birthday because I got my life back,” he says.   

This article was created by TNM Brand Studio in association with Apollo Hospitals, and not by TNM Editorial.

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