After having a brain tumour removed, Caleb Scott was left with the right side of his face paralysed.
While his family were thrilled he had survived, they were devastated their once-beaming son could no longer smile.
“We always wanted Caleb’s smile back ,” his mother, Suzanne Turpie, told 7.30.
“We’d look back at photos of Caleb and go, ‘God, I miss that smile’.”
Life-saving brain surgery changed Caleb’s whole face
Caleb was nine years old when his parents realised something was wrong.
“Caleb’s always been an early riser, he’s always raring to go, you know, really enthusiastic about the day ahead,” Mrs Turpie said.
But his family noticed he was getting sick in the morning.
An MRI scan revealed the worst.
“They initially told us I had brain cancer and they said I have about two weeks,” Caleb said.
“Since then, stuff has never been the same.”
Caleb successfully underwent an operation to remove the tumour.
“Walking into ICU and seeing him so sick, tubes coming out of him, nothing prepared us for that,” Mrs Turpie said.
But the surgery left him partially paralysed on the right side of his face.
“It was very hard to see him like that,” his stepfather, Rob Turpie, said.
“He couldn’t hold his head up properly, head slumped to the side, movement was all but gone.”
‘We want Caleb’s smile back’
Caleb slowly began to recover.
Rehabilitation helped him re-learn simple things like walking.
He took up karate lessons to build his strength and balance.
But it seemed nothing would bring his smile back.
A form of surgery was available but it was expensive and Caleb’s family could not afford it.
Until the Cure My Brain charity stepped in.
“These guys were just beyond amazing,” Mrs Turpie said.
“One of the questions they said was, ‘What are your hopes and dreams for Caleb?’
“We wholeheartedly said, ‘We want Caleb’s smile back’.”
Cure My Brain engaged Sydney Ch’ng, a surgeon from Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer treatment centre in Sydney.
Dr Ch’ng and her team — Jonathan Clark, Vivek Bhadri and Susan Coulson — spent six hours taking muscles and nerves from Caleb’s leg and transplanting them into his face.
“That nerve we use is not usually involved in producing facial movement,” Dr Ch’ng said.
“That requires Caleb to retrain his brain and with intensive rehabilitation Caleb [will be] able to produce a symmetrical smile.”
‘It worked, he could smile’
Five weeks after the operation, Caleb surprised his mother.
“He gave me a smile and it worked, you know, he could smile,” Mrs Turpie said.
“I was so elated.
“Words fail us when we think of Dr Sydney Ch’ng … she’s given Caleb his life back.”
The goal now is for Caleb to be able to smile instinctively.
“I have to do this,” he said clenching his teeth.
“Clench together, get it activated at the same time, get an even smile.
“It’s easy once you do the first couple of times.
“It’s pretty nice to feel I’ve got my smile back.”