-- Just hours before a 3-year-old was supposed to have lengthy surgery on a facial malformation, the pint-size patient told her doctor how the operation would make her feel.
“Feel pretty,” Kaitlin Nguyen told her surgeon Dr. Gregory Levitin, director of the Vascular Birthmark Center at Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York.
Kaitlin is undergoing a procedure today funded by an anonymous donor to remove a large lymphatic malformation that has left part of her face bulging out.
“She’s not shy,” Levitin said of Kaitlin. “She’s walking around here charming all the nurses and pushing the wheelchairs.”
Kaitlin was born with a large lymphatic malformation on her face, meaning lymphatic tissue was growing under the skin on her face similar to a cancerous tumor.
While the growth wasn't cancerous or life-threatening, Kaitlin's mother was eager to get it removed.
"I know kids are very cruel at school," Kaitlin's mother Thuy Nguyen told ABC News. The family from the Los Angeles area had tried to have Kaitlin's malformation removed before when she was just a year old.
But in that case the surgeon came back unable to remove much of the tissue due to the complicated placement of growth, according to Kaitlin's current physician, Dr. Levitin.
"It’s projected and droopy and kind of unusual appearance. They grow in a very deforming way," he said of lymphatic malformations.
Levitin is planning to remove the malformation in a possibly lengthy surgery. Removing the growth may seem simple, but Levitin said it can be incredibly difficult to accomplish due to the facial nerves.
"We want to remove abnormal tissue but preserve normal tissue including that nerve," said Levitin. "It’s a needle of hay in a haystack.”
Levitin said the operation could go for three to six or even more hours if they run into complications. He refuses to remove any part of the growth until he identifies the facial nerves.
Comparing it to a “wedding,” Levitin said of the operation, “you know when it starts but not when it ends.”
Levitin said it is key to do this surgery when a child is younger because it means it will be easier to manage over time. While the growth could come back as Kaitlin goes through puberty, it will be unlikely to reach the same size it is now.
“If you operate at an early age such as now, there’s only 20 percent left,” said Levitin.
The surgery is being funded by an anonymous donor. Levitin went to the donor, who he had worked with before, when he found out Kaitlin's family was searching for a way to cover the cost of the operation.
“Just by the pictures he fell in love with this girl. He’s happy to do this,” Levitin said of the donor.
Nguyen said she was “thrilled” when she heard the news about the anonymous donor who could help her daughter have the surgery.
“I wanted to say thank you to the donor who made this happen for Kaitlin, I would love to thank him,” she told ABC News.
Levitin said patients with these kind of vascular birthmarks are doubly special to him after his own daughter went through a surgery to have her facial malformation removed 14 years ago.
After Kaitlin told her doctor today she wants to "feel pretty" after surgery, Levitin kindly disagreed with the toddler.
"We're going to do our best, but you're already pretty aren't you?" Levitin told the girl.