Jose Mestre has spent the majority of his life slowly disappearing underneath a massive 12-pound facial deformation, which has now rendered him not only blind in one eye but virtually unrecognizable.
Mestre, who is featured on the Discovery Channel's upcoming "My Shocking Story" series, was born with a vascular malformation on his lip. Now 51, Mestre, who lives in Lisbon, Portugal, is wrestling with the decision of how to treat the facial growth, which up until now Discovery says was never removed due to medical misinformation, misdiagnosis, financial problems and religious beliefs.
While it may difficult for the average person to imagine Mestre's face without the large tumor, plastic surgeons and facial reconstructive specialists told ABC News that while a surgery to remove it would be extensive it is still certainly feasible.
"In general, one can make significant improvements to his facial appearance by removing the tumor and reconstructing the area where the tumor was," said Dr. Andrew Wexler, the president of the American Society of Maxillofacial Surgeons and member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "But removing the tumor may not restore symmetry to a person."
There likely will still be evidence of the tumor after the reconstruction, said Dr. Wexler, due to the tissue and bones that have been consumed by the malformation for so many years.
"The tumor itself can cause changes in the size of the facial bones or in the facial structure because the increased blood supply [that flows to a tumor] can lead to increased growth in facial tissue," said Dr. Wexler, who has not treated Mestre. "There may be a facial palsy."
Vascular tumors are congenital, and doctors say are not entirely uncommon. But more often than not, children who have them get them removed at a very young age. It's also possible to have a vascular tumor that does not grow as large as Mestre's did.
This type of vascular tumor removal does come with risks, said Dr. Wexler, who added that determining the type of blood vessels within the tumor is key in this sort of situation. The bigger the arteries involved, the more extensive the surgery will be.
And, similar to Mestre's loss of vision, these tumors can have significant effects on people's nerve functions – like the ability to smile, as well as more serious afflictions like heart and lung problems – even after they are removed.
This sort of operation takes hours, according to several plastic surgeons, who were unwilling to estimate exactly how much this kind of treatment would cost.
Mestre's religion – he is reportedly a Jehovah's Witness – is another reason he may have been hesitant to treat his facial growth.
Jehovah's Witnesses' interpretation of the Bible prohibits taking blood from anyone – causing them to refuse to undergo surgeries requiring blood transfusions.
"Our perspective is pretty straightforward and clear – if the surgery involves the transfusion of blood or a major component of blood (such as plasma) then we look as it as contrary to what is stated in scripture," said J.R. Brown, the spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses World Headquarters in New York. "If it does not involve the transfusion of blood then we look at it entirely in terms of a personal decision."