Smiles for Children with Permanent Facial Paralysis

Chelsea Lizardo 2011

Chelsea Lizardo before her 8th grade's "Farewell Ceremony" last June.

Most cases of facial nerve paralysis (FNP) can be treated successfully, says Hopkins Children’s plastic surgeon Rick Redett, and timely surgery can halt facial deterioration.Every year, he restores facial movement and smiles to dozens of children with nerve paralyses that was deemed irreversible.

While some patients with acquired nerve paralyses can recover partly or completely, many do not. Even patients with permanent paralysis, as well as those with partial recovery who don’t recover fully, can and do get better, he says, but treatment should start promptly — no later than nine to 12 months after onset — to avoid progressive damage to the corresponding facial muscle.

“In acquired facial paralysis, early treatment is critical because once the paralyzed nerve stops sending signals to the muscle, muscle fibers begin to die, and the more fibers die, the harder it is to recover muscle movement later on,” says Redett, who is also the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Facial Paralysis and Pain Center. Learn more

A referral from a neurologist sent young Marylander Chelsea Lizardo into his care several years ago, after other physicians offered no hope. Born with congenital nerve paralysis of the right side of her face, the 7th-grader underwent the first of two surgeries at Hopkins Children’s in 2009. In the first procedure, Redett spliced a nerve from her calf to the damaged nerve in her face. In a second surgery last July, he implanted muscle from her thigh into the side of her face where the muscle was dead. Powered by the spliced nerve, the implanted muscle is beginning to move.

Chelsea, an honors student who enters 9th grade in the fall, is taking part in an upcoming news segment with WBAL-Ch. 11 to tell her story. “She’s wants to be an advocate, to help inspire other children and let them know what is possible,” says her mother, Julita Lizardo, who with Redett will also appear in the news story.