Helping the Girl Who Couldn't Smile

Girl Who Cant SmileDeane Family/Carolyn Troadec
Twelve year old Kiana Deane was born with her face partially paralyzed, and for her entire life she has been unable to smile.

Twelve year old Kiana Deane was born with her face partially paralyzed, and for her entire life, she has not been able to smile.

Kiana says it's her "inner smile" that counts, and a surgical procedure taking place today could turn that inner smile into an outer one.

Kiana, who lives in Culver City, Calif., has had to face overwhelming struggles and challenges from day one.

"Kiana was born into this world through two drug-addicted parents who were described to me through the social workers as street junkies," explained her mother, Robin Deane, who adopted Kiana in 2001 at age 3. "So she was immediately placed in foster care."

It was difficult to find an adoptive family for the little girl who couldn't smile, but Robin Deane saw something special.

VIDEO: Kiana Deane, born with partial facial paralysis, undergoes surgery.Play

"I was drawn to her and I was connected to her. And I -- just believed for her," she said. "And when I was at the adoption fair the line for babies was very long. But then the line for special needs children ... I was the only one in that line."

Kiana had been born addicted to methamphetamine, and was paralyzed on one side of her face. Doctors didn't know if Kiana had a rare condition called Bell's palsey, the leading cause of facial paralysis in the United States, or another similar condition that causes partial paralysis.

"This side goes up, the left side," Kiana said. "And [the right] side doesn't. ... Doesn't do anything."

Kiana also explained that her left eyebrow doesn't move up and down, and she can't close her left eye all the way.

"So this side just ... stays there," she explained.

"They didn't think that she would achieve in school," Robin Deane recalled. "And just everything was just negative. But she has overcome all of that. And now she wants ... she's here today because she wants to tell the world her story."

Teasing 'Really Hurt' Kiana Deane

The smile is one of the most fundamental body language expressions, and as she's grown, other children have made fun of Kiana's paralysis.

Deane said when her daughter smiles, the result is "more like a grimace."

"Only one side of her face smiles upward," she said, "and so she's constantly teased regarding that. Constantly asked questions regarding that. Also, questions such as 'What's wrong with you? Why do you smile like that?' Or, 'What's wrong with your face?' That sort of thing."

"Behind my face is just, like, a paralyzed girl," Kiana said. "Inside's just ... a kind, sweet girl who is also paralyzed. So paralyzed girls can be kind and sweet too."

"I believe the most painful part has been, for her, being ostracized," her mother said, especially in middle school when self-esteem is fragile and "vitally important."

"She'll get in the car and say, 'Mommy, my best friend said, 'You look weird when you smile.'" And so things like that hurt. But they don't understand. They don't mean any harm. Kids really don't understand."

Kiana said that other students can be "really mean."

"One time at PE, when I was in fifth grade -- it was either fourth or fifth grade -- and they wrote, 'Kiana is so ugly." And they wrote it big chalk letters. They wrote, 'Kiana is so ugly.' They wrote it on the ground. 'Kiana is so ugly, she will never be pretty,' or something. And then that really hurt me."

The teasing has caused Kiana to try to cover her face at times.

"There's been times she's been caught holding her face so that other people wouldn't see that," Robin Deane said. "She also sometimes wears large sunglasses."

Kiana would scratch out her face from class pictures, "because usually when I take class photos they don't come out really right," she said. "They -- they don't come out normal. They came out, they came out bad."

But as Kiana grew older her inability to smile didn't get in her way. She's excelled in school, is a favorite of her teachers, and her inner smile is what impresses people.

"She teaches us a lot about strength and perseverance," said her teacher Shannon Keller. "And I wish more people were like her in that way ... so easy to get along with, sweet and helpful."

Kiana Is 'Smiling All the Time'

When considering what career she could pursue without being able to smile, Kiana thought that models often pose without smiling.

"I've always seen models in magazines, and they're not even smiling." she said. "They're just, like, posing. And I said, 'I could do that.'"

A professional photographer, Carolyn Troadec, took a series of pictures of Kiana.

"I think Kiana is really beautiful just the way she is," Troadec said. "Kiana is very, very thoughtful, committed and strong."

But a surgeon at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles, Dr. Andre Panossian, is about to change Kiana's life. With his hands and the miracle of science, he will give her a smile, just as he's done successfully for other patients with facial paralysis.

"We are going to take a muscle from her inner thigh along with its blood vessels and nerves and blood supply and put it in the face on the paralyzed side," he said. "We choose the thigh muscle because it will mimic the facial muscle almost identically."

The seven-hour surgery will, it's hoped, bring Kiana one step closer to getting her smile.

"I hope the surgery will bring me more confidence ... and more about me in, in myself," she said. "And I'll feel much more better about me. And I hope the surgery will just feel good for myself."

It will take months for the surgery's effect to take hold in a noticeable way, but Kiana's sixth-grade teacher says, "She's going to be beautiful no matter what."

"Surgery or not, she's always smiling," Keller said. "I think the surgery if it helps her ... so be it. When I see her, she's smiling all the time. I can always see it."

"Good Morning America" will check in with Kiana after her surgery and will keep you updated on her progress.

Click Here for more information about facial paralysis, including Bell's Palsy, from the National Institutes of Health.