Brad Guilkey, 15, was born without cheekbones and, for him, a typical sporting activity such as basketball carries tremendous risks.
Brad suffers from Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic disorder in which the bones and other tissues in the face don't develop.
So, for Brad, a shot to the face during a game of basketball could crush his eyeball. His mother, Christine Guilkey, said the lack of bone meant the lack of vital protection.
But the Cincinnati teen has undergone groundbreaking experimental surgery that is allowing him to grow new cheekbones, a procedure that could help others who have lost bone as a result of similar genetic conditions or traumatic injuries.
Brad had an experimental eight-hour operation in May at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, where doctors implanted cadaver bone into his face. They then injected Brad's own stem cells into the donor bone.
From a medical standpoint, the results were miraculous.
"Lo and behold, the bone has come back to life," said Dr. Jesse Taylor of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "I've been really pleasantly surprised by the results of this."
Brad now has solid bone in his cheeks, and said on "Good Morning America" today that he's happy with the results.
Taylor said the surgery could have significant implications for millions of people.
"Certainly, as we're engaged in conflicts abroad, more and more young men and women come back with really severe facial disfigurement from a lack of bone," he said.
Statistics on the Disorder
People with Treacher Collins syndrome typically have eyes that slant downward, as well as absent, small or unusually formed ears, according to the National Institutes of Health. They have sparse eyelashes and some even have eye abnormalities that can lead to vision loss.
The disorder affects about 1 in 50,000 people, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Many reconstructive surgeries that use implanted material often have high failure rates because the recipients' bodies reject the donor material. In Brad's case, though, there is no rejection risk because the his own cell's are growing in the cadaver bone.