NYC docs successfully remove 5-year-old Ethiopian girl’s lethal cantaloupe-size tumor

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A pair of Manhattan doctors removed a lethal tumor the size of a cantaloupe from a 5-year-old Ethiopian girl’s face in an intense, hours-long surgery — and she proudly showed off her new mug on Tuesday.

Little Nagalem Alafa, who lives in a rural village in the African country, has never had access to specialized health care, and since birth has suffered from a “vascular malformation” on her face that’s kept her out of school and prevented her from socializing with kids her own age.

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“They were hiding her at home,” explained Kalkidan Alemayehu Gebremariam, who’s been helping the child and her father translate after they came to New York for the surgery in late June.

“They don’t let her go to school and now thanks to God for this … she’ll go to school.”

The benign growth has been developing “rapidly” since birth and Nagalem would’ve suffocated or starved, due to the inability to swallow, if the tumor wasn’t removed.

Nagalem Alafa, 5.
Nagalem Alafa, 5, smiles after undergoing life-saving surgery.
Stephen Yang

Luckily for her, a US government official met Nagalem in Ethiopia last year while on a mission and decided to help.

Following a worldwide search for doctors who could treat the rare condition, the official found Dr. Teresa O and Dr. Milton Waner, a married couple and surgical dream team from Lenox Hill Hospital, which agreed to conduct the $500,000 procedure pro bono.

“This is why I became a doctor,” Waner told The Post on Tuesday during a press conference at the hospital to unveil Nagalem’s new face.

Husband and wife team, Dr. Milton Waner, director of the vascular birthmark institute, left, and Dr Teresa O, director of the facial nerve center, right, play with Nagalem Alafa, 5.
Husband-and-wife team Dr. Milton Waner (left), director of the vascular birthmark institute, and Dr. Teresa O (right), director of the facial nerve center, play with Nagalem Alafa.
Stephen Yang

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 12,” the doctor said of the procedure, one of the most complicated he and O had ever done.

“This type of surgery is very difficult, very dangerous, and certainly life-threatening. We explained what would happen to the child’s father. There was a possibility she may not make it.”

O said the condition is rarely seen in the US because kids typically get such a growth removed well before it reaches the size of Nagalem’s tumor.

Nagalem sitting on Dr. Teresa O’s lap during presser

The child underwent the complex, 12-hour operation on June 23, when O and Waner dissected her facial and neck nerves and carefully removed the tumor and parts of her skin, which had grown around the malformation. The surgeons had to “cautiously navigate branches of nerves and vital arteries” that could’ve caused paralysis, severe blood loss and death if they were accidentally severed, the hospital explained.

The surgery was a success and when Nagalem was wheeled out of the operating room, her father dropped to his knees and thanked God when he realized that she had made it.

Five-year-old Nagalem from a small village in Ethiopia is ready to reveal her new face for the first time after Lenox Hill Hospital.
Nagalem before her surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Before and after photos of Nagalem Alafa.
Before and after photos of Nagalem Alafa.
Lenox Hill/ Stephen Yang

“I was crying before, now I’m smiling and praising God and the doctors,” said dad Matios Alafa Haile through Gebremariam, the translator.

“He’s very thankful and grateful for the doctors. He has been looking everywhere for a cure for this cute girl,” Gebremariam added.

Five-year-old Nagalem from a small village in Ethiopia is ready to reveal her new face for the first time after Lenox Hill Hospital surgeons removed a massive lethal tumor from her face and neck
Dr. Teresa O (second from left) and Dr. Milton Waner conducted the $500,000 procedure pro bono. 

While Nagalem still has some healing to do and one more minor surgery, for the first time in her life, she’s breathing easy.

“She is playing, enjoying everything,” said Gebremariam.

“There is a big difference, she is different.”

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