Craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgeons, Dr. Raymond Harshbarger, Dr. Patrick Kelley and Dr. Steven Henry made history when they created a new jaw for 16-year-old, Abby Rodgers at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, in 2014.
Dr. Harshbarger has now been asked to present Abby’s case in Tokyo, Japan in front of a group of surgeons from around the world at the 16th Congress of International Craniofacial Surgery, Sept. 14-18.
Abby was born with virtually no jaw bone. Growing up she endured more than 20 surgeries where doctors attempted to re-build her jaw, using titanium and other methods.
“As Abby grew, her jaw just didn’t,” her mother, Angie Lester, recalls, “And each time that happened, it was time for another surgery,” she said.
The family had given up hope, until two years ago when they moved from Dallas to Central Texas. They found Dr. Harshbarger who developed an innovative plan which he believed could create a permanent solution for Abby.
“He said, I think I can help her,” Lester recalls. “I kind of thought, here we go again, but when I heard his plan and saw the detail and creativity, I was amazed.”
The plan: A medical “first”
Abby’s case presented a unique challenge for Dr. Harshbarger.
“Normally the way we address a deficiency of the lower jaw in a teenager like Abby would be to go to the lower leg and harvest the fibula bone,” Harshbarger said. “But she’s missing the lower leg on both sides.”
He then came up with the idea to use Abby’s femur bone. This he thought could work because that area of the thigh contains an artery and vein that could be reconnected in the jaw.
Abby’s family ultimately left the decision up to her. She decided to go through with the plan.
It took two surgeries and a team of specialists for the idea to come to life. With help from his craniofacial colleagues, Harshbarger and the team accomplished what had never been done before.
During the first surgery, they removed titanium joints and other hardware that had been placed in Abby’s jaw during prior surgeries. Next, they overextended her jaw to allow Abby’s muscles to stretch which would help improve the overall outcome.
The second surgery consisted of moving Abby’s jaw forward and then rebuilding it entirely, using two small strips of femur bone from each leg.
“I’m really happy we were able to help her out,” Harshbarger said.
New jaw, new life
Fully recovered, Abby is now able to eat solid food without difficulty for the first time in her life and has developed a strong liking for cheese enchiladas and Texas barbecue. She says the surgery has also helped improve her speech and has given her more confidence.
“I definitely look better than I did before,” Abby said. “I look more normal.”
Abby and her mother hope her case can be used as an example for doctors to help other patients.
“Dr. Harshbarger is an amazing person,” Lester said. “The technology that allowed him to plan the surgery and the results are incredible. He was able to accomplish something we had always hoped could be accomplished.”
In the news
Several local media outlets covered Abby’s story, including KVUE, FOX7, KXAN, TWC News andKLBJ News Radio.
After learning about Abby, her story and that she always wished to try Franklin Barbecue, the restaurant, a local favorite, donated a generous amount of food for Abby and her family to enjoy.
Visit Seton Flickr for additional photos of the media event.