To see the face of 32-year-old Huang Chuancai is to witness a rare genetic condition in its most terrible form.
Chinese doctors say Huang, of China's southern Hunan province, suffers from a disease known as neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder of the nervous system that primarily affects the development and growth of neural cell tissues.
For many of its sufferers, the disease means abnormal growth of these tissues and, as a result, facial disfigurement. But Huang's case could well be the most extreme case of such disfigurement in the world today.
Before surgical intervention, 50 pounds of tumor tissue had pulled and twisted Huang's face into a distorted form, nearly unrecognizable as human. According to wire reports, doctors found that the heavy mass that droops from his head and face had deformed his backbone, stunting his growth. The tumor had totally covered his left eye, while his left ear hung down to his shoulder, and his right ear and jaw were completely engulfed.
Now, after more than two decades of suffering the horrific advance of his tumor, Huang is recovering from a second round of surgery on Monday to remove the massive growth. The initial operation, which took place last July, was a risky one-and-a-half-hour procedure that removed the largest of Huang's tumors, which weighed about 33 pounds.
While many more operations will be needed to remove all the excess tissue, Huang is reportedly hopeful that the treatments will allow him to lead a more normal life.
"I hope that when my illness is cured, I can go back home and have a nice spring festival with my family," he told Reuters.
Unfortunately, plastic and cosmetic surgeons say, it is highly unlikely that the surgeries will result in a normal appearance.
There is "zero chance of [Huang] looking normal, since the muscles, nerves, eye, bone and sometimes brain can be involved," notes Dr. Henry Kawamoto, clinical professor of plastic surgery at UCLA and director of the university's craniofacial clinic.
"I doubt that this patient will look 'normal' as suggested by [past media coverage]," agrees Park Avenue plastic surgeon Dr. Darrick Antell. "The patient would certainly be substantially better, but the degree of the problem is so large that 'normal' is unlikely in my opinion."
But doctors say the surgeries -- albeit risky -- could represent Huang's one best chance at leading as normal a life as possible.
"What he will get is a much more normal appearance," says Dr. Thomas Gampper, vice chair of plastic surgery at the University of Virginia. "Considering where he starts, the improvement will be dramatic, in that he will be recognizably human."
Though it only affects about one out of 4,000 people in the United States, neurofibromatosis is the most common genetic neurological disorder that is caused by a single faulty gene -- a mutation on chromosome 17. In total, it affects more than 100,000 people in the United States.
But few of those with the condition suffer the same degree of disfigurement that Huang experienced -- nor would many be forced to endure the same level of treatment. A major concern when dealing with surgery of this magnitude, surgeons say, is the bleeding that can accompany the removal procedure. One mistake could cause Huang to bleed to death.