Geelong doctors change Vanuatu woman’s life after removing large benign tumour from face
MADLEN Tamtam’s eyes widen as she speaks excitedly about her plans to go to university.
The young woman dreamed of becoming an accountant but a severe facial deformity left her so self-conscious she refused the leave the house without covering her face.
When she was a teenager the now 24-year-old Vanuatu national developed a benign tumour near her left jaw that slowly continued to grow.
By late last year the tumour had grown to the size of a grapefruit.
It had sapped Ms Tamtam of all her confidence leaving her isolated and anxious.
The young woman was desperate to get medical help, but her country’s rudimentary medical facilities made this impossible.
Her hopes rested on a group of medical practitioners travelling from Australia on a mission to Vanuatu.
With hundreds of others Ms Tamtam lined up at her local hospital to be seen by visiting Geelong plastic surgeon Mr Ian Holten.
“When we saw Madlen she had a big scarf wrapped around her face,” Mr Holten said.
Mr Holten, who workers at Australian Skin Face Body, soon diagnosed Ms Tamtam with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive.
The condition meant her muscles and facial tissues were gradually being replaced by bone forming outside of the skeleton.
Mr Holten said the bone tumour could be removed relatively easily but was not able to be performed in Vanuatu, where access to a simple blood transfusion is difficult.
A team of plastic and maxillofacial surgeons worked for four hours to give Ms Tamtam a chance at a normal life.
Dr Martin Ching described the surgery as like “peeling off a growth from the original structure”.
The team, aided by half a dozen nurses, made cuts inside Ms Tamtam’s mouth to prevent scarring. the young woman had hundreds of stitches – none are visible.
Mr Holten said the surgery, conducted at St John of God, was risky because doctors had to work carefully to avoid nerves or arteries.
Ms Tamtam was in intensive care for 48 hours and required six units of blood transfusions.
“Working in that area (of the mouth) was like a tiger’s den — with all the nerves and arteries,” Mr Holten said.
He said the bone tumour is stronger and denser than normal bone and more difficult to extract.
Doctors believe they removed 90 per cent of the tumour and are confident any additional surgery will be able to be carried out in Vanuatu.
Ms Tamtam, who travelled from Children First’s Kilmore retreat to Geelong yesterday, said the surgery had transformed her life.
“(The tumour) made me sad. I didn’t finish school because people started to look at me so I would cover up,” she said.
Ms Tamtam is now enrolled in an economics and accounting degree,
“Now I am excited, I feel good because there is no more bone and no more swelling,” Ms Tamtam said.
“I can help with church activities, I can study I will have no problems.”
Children First retreat assistant manager Judy Goss said Ms Tamtam’s confidence had blossomed since the April operation.
Ms Tamtam will return to Vanuatu next week.
As seen in Geelong Advertiser, Olivia Shying, 25th May, 2019