In 2014, Luke, then 4 years old, came to his parents complaining that his right cheek hurt. After a dentist ruled out any issues related to his teeth, his pediatrician prescribed antibiotics to address any infection that may be causing the pain in his mouth. Over the next few months, the pain would come and go, and it seemed to be developing resistance to antibiotics.
A CT scan revealed an abnormality in Luke's cheek tissue, and in June 2015, a mass in his cheek ruptured. A plastic surgeon at a local hospital drained the area and cleaned out any remaining tissue, which left a large hole and significant scarring in his right cheek. For a short time, it appeared that Luke's issues were behind him, but in December 2015, his cheek began swelling again. After additional rounds of antibiotics and a series of tests to determine why the growth had returned, Luke underwent a second surgery known as a parotidectomy to remove the parotid gland, the largest salivary gland, on his right cheek.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for Luke's cheek to start swelling again. Over the next couple of years, he and his doctors tried to control the swelling through antibiotics or drainage procedures to no avail. Finally, in January 2019, an IV line was placed in Luke's left arm to enable him to receive heavier doses of intravenous antibiotics at home. Again, the effects were short-lived. Luke's cheek continued to swell and he was forced to miss several weeks of school.
A second opinion provides hope
At this point, Luke's medical issues were beginning to take a toll on him emotionally as well. The frequent rounds of antibiotics often upset his stomach, and he began feeling very self-conscious about the scars on his face from his previous two surgeries.
"I just felt terrible at times," Luke says.
But when his cheek swelled up again in February 2019, his surgeon was reluctant to move forward with a surgical option.
"Because of the facial nerve damage caused from previous surgeries, Luke's original surgeon wanted another doctor to assist her during surgery," says Luke's mom, Rebecca. "But no other doctors at the hospital were willing to take the risk, so she wouldn't agree to do the surgery."
Instead, Luke's surgeon referred him to Christopher Liu, M.D., Pediatric Otolaryngologist (ENT) at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern. Dr. Liu is Director of the Pediatric Head and Neck Tumor Program at Children's Health, the only program of its kind in North Texas.
Rebecca admits she was nervous to change doctors at first, but Dr. Liu's confidence from their very first appointment immediately put her at ease.
"We brought all of our information from the past four years with us, and he reviewed it all," Rebecca says. "He was confident that surgery was the right choice from the start and not hesitant at all."
Luke thrives after life-changing surgery
In April 2019, Luke underwent surgery to remove another mass from his right cheek. During the six-hour surgery, Dr. Liu also cleaned up some of the scar tissue from his previous two surgeries to help mitigate the appearance of his scar. Luke recovered well from surgery and went home the next day. Post-surgery pathology reports determined the growth was a branchial cleft cyst, and Dr. Liu is optimistic that it should not return because he was able to remove the entire cyst.
Today, Luke is a totally different child, according to his mom. The appearance of his scar has decreased significantly since surgery, boosting his self-confidence, and he is feeling better physically too. He hasn't missed a day of school this year and enjoys playing all types of sports and playing with his friends.
"It really was a life-changing surgery for Luke," Rebecca says.
The only pediatric program in North Texas of its kind, the Pediatric Head and Neck Tumor Program at Children's Health delivers expert, comprehensive care for children with head and neck tumors. Learn more about our program and services.
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