At only 3 years old, Melyssa Delgado Braga’s face was being consumed by myxoma, a rare yet aggressive facial tumor. Braga, who lives with her family in Brazil, would have died from the five-pound tumor blocking her air passageways and crushing her tongue and jaw, but a plea on social media by her parents may have saved her life.
By luck and happenstance, Dr. Celso Palmieri Jr., assistant professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, came across a post on a Brazilian news site while looking at publications from his home country. In the post, Braga’s family was looking for a way to get their daughter to the United States for treatment.
He was moved by her story and contacted Dr. G.E. Ghali, chairman of his department, who has performed similar surgeries on other international patients.
“As I was reading more about her story, I realized our department could probably help her, and particularly Dr. Ghali and his department. I’ve seen him helping people so many times, so I took a screenshot of the child, and I texted it to him,” Palmieri said of Ghali.
Ghali, as Palmieri suspected, was able and eager to help. However, before they could start planning her surgery and treatment, Ghali had to make sure that Braga and her family would be able to have an affordable and safe stay in the U.S. He reached out to Shreveport’s Willis-Knighton Health System, a nonprofit healthcare organization with a history of hosting international patients and rare surgeries, who agreed to provide housing and underwrite the medical bills and hospital stay.
When Braga finally arrived in the U.S., Ghali officially diagnosed her with myxoma.
“This is typically a benign tumor, non-cancerous, but it’s very locally aggressive,” Ghali said. “This tumor has pretty much eaten away her entire jaw from one side to the other and has displaced her tongue. [She’s] really unable to eat pretty well. She was on her way to be a pretty malnourished child.”
Without surgery, Braga would have needed a feeding tube and was only a month away from having her breathing blocked.
“When we were able to remove this tumor, the tumor weighed over 5 pounds on a child that probably doesn’t weigh more than 25 pounds herself, total weight,” Ghali said.
Braga underwent an eight-hour surgery on December 20 and is currently recovering in Louisiana.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.