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A delicate surgery saves a teenager’s eye

When Nhu Nguyen came to Stanford to seek help for her left eye, she felt like she was living in a nightmare. Nguyen, then 16, had undergone surgery at another California hospital to remove a small, benign dermoid eye tumor she'd been born with. After that procedure, the tumor grew back much larger than before -- so large, in fact, that she couldn't close her eye. As my recent Stanford Medicine magazine story about her experience explains, she feared her whole eye would have to be removed.

At their first consultation with Nguyen, as Stanford ophthalmic surgeons Charles Lin, MD, and Andrea Kossler, MD, considered whether they could save the girl's eye, they saw a heartrending sight. Their patient hid her eye behind a thick mass of bangs and seemed dreadfully withdrawn. From my story:

Behind her quiet exterior, Nguyen was desperately wishing for her old eye back. The original dermoid, which had always been part of her body, had bothered her very little in comparison with the much larger regrowth. Was it futile to hope to have her eye fixed now? She wasn’t sure, and her English wasn’t yet good enough to explain her mishmash of emotions to the physicians.

Lin and Kossler sensed Nguyen’s desperation and wanted to help. They planned to operate as a team: First, Kossler would remove the external lump, then Lin would meticulously cut out its roots.

During the January 2014 Stanford surgery, after the two surgeons removed the tumor, Lin also performed a corneal transplant. Happily, the surgery worked and the growth did not return.

Today, 20-year-old Nguyen's heavy bangs and withdrawn demeanor are also gone. She greets the world with a grin that reaches all the way to her two indistinguishably healthy eyes.

In fact, in the summer of 2016, when her family visited their old neighborhood in her native Vietnam, "people couldn't recognize which eye had the dermoid when I was a kid," she told me. "They kept asking 'Which eye was it?'"

Previously: Stanford Medicine magazine reports on the future of visionThe soul of a souped-up machine: Workhorse eye-scanning device can do virtual biopsies, New Stanford center will advance vision research and Stanford scientists describe stem-cell and gene-therapy advances in scientific symposium
Photo of Nhu Nguyen by Brain Smale

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