Dr. Douglas Henstrom and Natalie Wright.
Provo teen Natalie Wright's is about to have a full smile. It's something she hasn't been able to do for 12 years.
Natalie was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 2, and underwent three surgeries during the first 10 years of her life. Because of her illness and treatments, the left side of her face has been paralyzed since she was 4.
Now, at 16-years old, she hopes to finally reveal her smile.
This week, Natalie is traveling to Iowa to become one of the first pediatric patients to complete facial reanimation surgery. She began the first of two surgeries last year under the careful hand of Dr. Douglas Henstrom who transported an 11-inch nerve from her leg into her cheek. Now, she will undergo a similar surgery to implant new muscle in her cheek that will control her ability to smile.
Dana Wright, Natalie's mother, says her daughter's life is a miracle.
"There are just too many situations I don't think are coincidental," she says. For example, one year ago, a neighbor told her about a niece's husband who had done facial surgeries for years. That's how they found Douglas Henstrom, a former Timpview High Thunderbird and BYU graduate, and currently a specialist in facial reconstruction.
After her second surgery at age 4, Natalie lost her ability to swallow. She was told that if it didn't return within one year, it never would. Three years later at her sister's soccer game, she was chewing on a snack and realized she had just swallowed it. That was the beginning of a new found happiness and hope that helped her face other challenges with balance, losing hearing in her left ear and sight in her left eye, and foremost, another brain surgery needed later this year.
Despite her hardships, Natalie remains an eternal optimist. Pictures of Natalie on her family's blog show a young woman already smiling as much as she can and giving two thumbs up even when she's in the hospital. "She knew her plan in life was different," says Dana Wright. "That it wouldn't be like everyone elses."
Physical difficulties don't dampen Natalie's inner strength and courage, and she's looking forward to starting her junior year at Timpview High School this fall with a smile.