A teenager has been forced to endure 55 corrective surgeries due to a rare condition that caused her chin to balloon.
Hannah Dunaway, 18, was born with lymphatic malformation, which triggered the growth of a huge benign mass in her throat and face.
The birth defect occurs when lymph vessels, which help remove excess fluid from the body’s tissues, fail to form correctly during pregnancy and clump together.
The teen has spent her whole life in and out of hospital as doctors tried to treat the condition, which affects roughly one in 4,000 a year to various degrees.
Hannah Dunaway has been forced to endure 55 corrective surgeries due to a rare condition that caused a benign mass to grow in her throat
Doctors were on standby in case Ms Dunaway, from Mississippi, was unable to breathe when she was born in February 2001
The birth defect occurs when lymphatic vessels – which help remove excess fluid from the body’s tissues – clump together
The teenager (with boyfriend Matthew), who is now 18, developed crippling depression from the struggle of living with the condition and the unwanted attention it got her from strangers
She has underwent tongue reduction surgery, skin grafts, plastic surgery as well as multiple operations to shrink the tumour and drain the vessels.
Ms Dunaway, from Mississippi, developed crippling depression in her early teens from the struggle of living with the condition and the unwanted attention it got her from strangers.
She said: ‘I knew my condition and facial features were not what everyone considered normal, but I never let it stop me from doing what I wanted.
‘I was one of the sassiest and most outspoken little girls you’d have ever met. As I got older, things did start to get rougher for me mentally.
‘I developed depression and anxiety in my early teenage years and still struggle occasionally.
‘I think one of my lowest points was my early teenage years as everyone at that age is so focused on looking good and trying to fit in.
Ms Dunaway has spent her whole life in and out of hospital as doctors tried to treat the condition, which affects roughly one in 4,000 a year to various degrees
She has been in and out of hospital since the day she was born, and has been forced to jet all over the country to see various specialists
She added: ‘During my childhood and teen years my lymphatic malformation was much more noticeable, and I had the tracheostomy tube that earned me lots of stares, double takes and very rude comments.
‘The saddest part was that ninety-five per cent of the time it was adults who would act inappropriately over it.
‘Thankfully most of the time other children were just curious so I’d explain it to them, and they’d move along with no issues.’
Following years of surgeries and treatments, the teen’s lymphatic malformation is no longer as noticeable as it used to be.
This has given her a renewed confidence and she tries to accept and cherish her uniqueness, rather than be ashamed and hide away.
Following years of surgeries and treatments, the teen’s lymphatic malformation is no longer as noticeable as it used to be. This has given her a renewed confidence
But she admits she’s still scarred from the treatment she received from strangers for years
Despite being born and raised in Mississippi, the teen has had treatment in New York, Alabama and Arkansas because there isn’t one state in particular which specialises in her condition
But she admits she’s still scarred from the treatment she received from strangers for years.
She added: ‘I am much more confident now than I was a few years ago. I have finally learned to take what negative things people have to say with a grain of salt.
‘Now I try and use my newfound confidence to help others who feel the way I used to. It took me many years to fully understand and embrace that beauty truly comes from within and that my uniqueness is to be cherished and not shamed.
‘I always live by the quote, ‘choose kindness’. I want others to learn that you don’t have to be uncomfortable or nervous about talking to a peer with a noticeable difference or disability because we want to get to know you and be treated as equals.’
When she was born at 32 weeks in February 2001, multiple specialists were on hand in case she wasn’t breathing when she was delivered.
WHAT IS A LYMPHATIC MALFORMATION?
Lymphatic malformations, sometimes referred to as cystic hygromas, are a collection of small cysts.
The cysts are filled with a clear fluid similar to the fluid in a blister.
The cysts have no purpose and can cause problems. The walls of the cysts are quite thin and contain little blood vessels.
Cystic hygromas most commonly form on the neck and armpits.
They occur when the lymph vessels fail to form correctly during the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Due to them occurring so early on in pregnancies, they cannot be prevented.
Cystic hygromas can be detected during pregnancy scans.
Most are visible during birth or early infancy and appear as painless, translucent, soft lumps.
Treatment is not always required but may involve surgical removal or injection sclerotherapy.
Sclerotherapy causes an inflammatory reaction that makes cystic hygromas shrink.
Cosmetic surgery may be performed in later life to reduce scarring.
They affect up to one per cent of newborns in the UK. Their US prevalence is unknown.
Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital
Doctors scrambled to surgically cut out as much of the mass as possible.
While they removed enough to clear her airways, Ms Dunaway had to be fed through a tube to the age of 12 as the tumour was still blocking her digestive tract.
She said: ‘My mum found out at her 18-week ultrasound that I had the lymphatic malformation.
‘At her appointment they first told her it was Down’s Syndrome before sending her to a specialist who confirmed it was lymphatic malformation.
‘They didn’t know if I was going to be born breathing or not, so there were several specialists on standby as they weren’t exactly sure what to expect when I was born.
‘I had the largest lymphatic malformation they had seen at that hospital. At six days old they removed as much of the malformation as they could, giving me a fifty percent chance of survival.
‘Then at around three weeks old they performed a tracheostomy and I received a feeding tube which I had until I was twelve years old. I was in the neonatal ICU for five months after.’
Ms Dunaway has been in and out of hospital since the day she was born, and has been forced to jet all over the country to see various specialists.
She has had treatment in New York, Alabama and Arkansas because there isn’t one state in particular which specialises in lymphatic malformation to a great extent.
She added: ‘I’ve had 55 treatments and procedures so far. I was also hospitalised multiple times a year to receive IV antibiotics and steroid treatment.
‘It has made my immune system very weak. I have always got sick very easily and up until recently I was hospitalised multiple times a year from getting sick and causing my tumours to flare.
‘They swell up, bleed and can be extremely painful. I had a nine-hour surgery when I was nine to remove as much of my lymphatic malformation from my face as possible.
‘It required over 500 stitches and a skin graft from my stomach to fill in the gap in my face. After that it was definitely much less prominent than before.
‘Unfortunately, it has grown back over the years but it’s nowhere near the size it was before.
‘I am currently preparing for jaw surgery to help make my face look more symmetrical and to help with the problems that the malformation caused by deforming my jaw over the years from its aggressive growth.
‘I am also on medicine that has significantly helped slow down growth and has helped decrease the amount of pain my malformation causes.’
Ms Dunaway hopes to encourage people not to feel awkward or nervous about talking to someone with a noticeable difference as she admits that she doesn’t mind people being curious, but when people are rude it becomes hurtful.
She said: ‘I was always treated the same as every other child by my family, close friends and teachers. I was fortunate to have the supportive and loving family that I do because despite the hurt so many caused, no one could ever crush my spirit.’