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‘More courage than anyone else’ | Health beat

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By the age of 20, Nate Briskey had seen the inside of an operating room more times than most people in her life.

He has already had 22 operations, most of them on his jaw that is too small. Some helped, others left him where he started.

Yet here he was, ready for another operation.

He had great hopes for this.

Nate was about to undergo an innovative operation by a pediatric cranio-facial surgeon. was developed Spectrum Health Helen DeVo’s Children’s Hospital. They implanted two titanium jawbones and silicone joints that were specially adapted and adapted to the structure of his face.

Although he could hardly open his mouth, Nate said in a clear voice: “I have to do something. It will help my teeth. It will open the door to more possibilities. It’s now or never. “

Just a week before the surgery, Nate said he wasn’t worried about the result.


He held up the diamond cross he wears around his neck.

“God is with me,” he said. “I leave it in his hands.”

Challenges from day 1

John Polley, MD, a pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon, examined Nate and understood the young man’s challenges.

“He was a really, really tough case,” he said.

Nate was born in Lake Orion, southeast Michigan, the third of Lisa’s and John Briskey’s four sons.

Before giving birth, an ultrasound showed he was Pierre Robin sequence, a rare condition that affects the development of a baby’s lower jaw, palate, and ears.

Doctors told Nate’s parents that he would need a lot of medical help.

“We are committed to seeking help from all over the world,” said his mother, Lisa Briskey. “Wherever he could get help, we wanted to take him there.”

Nate has faced unique difficulties from the earliest moments in life. Immediately after he was born, the medical team took him to the neonatal intensive care unit.

He had a specially designed bottle that he could eat with, although it would take him over an hour to drink a small amount of milk. Family members helped the Briskeys look after Nate and his older brothers.

“He couldn’t sit in a car seat,” said Lisa. “If he leaned forward, he couldn’t breathe. He had a car seat bed in which he could lie down. “

Initially, the medical team said Nate couldn’t hear. But Lisa was sure otherwise.

“When I was pregnant with him, he jumped every time the dog barked,” she said.

A doctor explained that Nate’s jaw was tilted back enough to pinch the tubes in his ears. Once he was operated on, it would open the passageway and improve his hearing.

When Nate turned 2, a surgeon told Lisa that he would be dumb. Again she thought differently.

“I said, ‘I’ll be a fighter here,'” she said.

She took Nate to speech therapy every week. Nate had surgery on her tongue and cleft palate.

And he actually learned to speak and used lip reading to help with communication.

Nate had a tracheostomy between the ages of 3 and 7 years. This enabled his medical team to perform anesthesia during his numerous surgeries – his airways were too compressed and twisted for intubation.

At the age of 12, Nate underwent jaw distraction surgery in the hopes that it would lengthen his jaw.

“But the bone never grew,” said Lisa.

While this was well-intentioned, some of Nate’s early surgeries caused bones in his jaw and skull to fuse together. That made it even more difficult to open your mouth.

“Things we took for granted – normal breathing, biting, and chewing – were things he couldn’t do,” said Dr. Polley.

Art and music

Nate excelled in other areas.

He taught himself to play the guitar and the piano. He is artistically gifted.

He took accelerated math classes and learned to write computer programs.

At home he plays hockey and video games and rides dirt bikes with his brothers Jacob, Joseph and Zachary.

He did well academically in school. Sometimes he felt the sting of rejection, sat alone at lunch, or missed social events.

“But he got up every day and went to school with his head up,” Lisa said. “He has more courage than anyone.”

Nate tries not to focus on the negative.

“When you worry about everything, you get in a bad mood,” he said. “I prefer to stay calm and positive.

“I leave it to God. He was with me the whole time. I wouldn’t be here without him. “

“The worst case”

In February 2021, Nate came to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for his surgery.

A team gathered in the operating room, including two facial plastic surgeons, Dr. Polley and John Girotto, MD, and two ENT surgeons, Joseph Taylor, MD, and James Thompson, MD.

Two titanium jawbones and silicone joints specially developed for Nate’s face were ready for implantation.

Although Dr. Polley and Dr. Girotto developed the procedure and performed it about 20 times, they were surprised by the level of difficulty they encountered with Nate.

“This was by far the worst case we’ve seen,” said Dr. Polley.

“We removed a large amount of abnormally fused bone between the base of his skull and his lower jaw on both sides,” he said.

As with his previous surgeries, Nate required a tracheostomy because of his compressed airway.

In the 10-hour operation, the surgeons moved the lower jaw forward and implanted the titanium bones on both sides.

After the operation, Nate stayed in the hospital for 12 days. With his jaws closed, he could only drink liquids – but he was used to that.

When he recovered, he turned to music for inspiration and played songs with music therapist Katie Rushlow.

“A fit, strong guy”

On a sunny June day, four months after the operation, Nate walked into Dr. Polleys office. One effect of the operation was immediately visible: he looked bigger and stronger.

“You look great,” said Dr. Polley. “You look like a fit, strong guy.”

Nate, who is six feet tall, was happy to report that he had gained 15 pounds since the operation. With his extended jaw, eating had become a lot easier.

“I can finally eat whole foods that I couldn’t before, which some people take for granted – like grapes, sushi, cupcakes,” he said.

Opening his airways likely helped with the weight gain too, said Dr. Polley. Before the surgery, breathing required hard work on the muscles in his neck and chest, and that consumed a lot of energy.

As for his speech, Nate hopes his new jaw will make it easier to speak. He continues to work with a speech therapist.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people that I’m much clearer when I speak,” he said. “I’ve never heard myself.”

Nate has more medical appointments. He works with an orthodontist to straighten his teeth. And Dr. Polley plans to have minor surgery to bring his chin forward and create a stronger jaw line.

Overall, Nate said the result of the operation was “amazing”.

“I think it was the best surgical team put together from all of my surgeries,” he said. “If I had to go through it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything.”

And beyond the medical team, he continues to rely on his faith to guide him through the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“God bless everyone – all the nurses and surgeons and everyone behind the scenes,” he said.

Thank You For Reading!


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