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Getting a new face after rare infection

'Look at me now'

Mark and Nancy Tatum
Mark Tatum and wife Nancy give his new face the "kiss test."  

From Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Unit

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) -- When a rare fungal infection called mucormycosis invaded Mark Tatum's sinuses two years ago, doctors had to remove much of his face just to save his life.

If they hadn't taken out his infected eyes, nose, cheekbones, upper jaw and teeth, the fungus could have traveled to his brain and killed him.

"Initially, we didn't think he was going to survive. The prognosis was extremely grim," said Dr. Wayne K. Stadelmann, a plastic surgeon with the University of Louisville Medical Center.

Here's how Tatum looked before the fungal infection attacked his sinuses.
Here's how Tatum looked before the fungal infection attacked his sinuses.  

Now, two years and 11 surgeries later, Tatum has a new face.

"Look at me now," the 45-year-old Owensboro, Kentucky, resident said. "I may not be beautiful, but I'm damn near it."

'Testament to the human spirit'

Using skin and tissue from his leg, doctors reconstructed the roof of Tatum's mouth so he could speak and eat.

Kentuckian Mark Tatum's doctors are working to give him back his facial features -- and his life. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports (February 4)

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See Elizabeth Cohen's full report on Your Health,  Saturday, Feb. 9 at 2:30 p.m. EST

Then they took a bone from his leg and put it into his face. On top of that bone they built titanium bridgework. Magnets in that bridgework hold in place a new prosthetic "face."

It was created by University of Louisville prosthodontist Zafrulla Khan, who called the prosthesis the most extensive he has ever made or heard about.

Tatum, who wears sunglasses to hide the fact that his fake eyes don't blink, hopes that the prosthetic will get him out more in public.

But he and his family still have a rough road ahead.

Tatum has suffered several strokes, the right side of his body is partially paralyzed and he takes 15 medicines a day.

Prosthodontist Zafrulla Khan, who made Tatum's
Prosthodontist Zafrulla Khan, who made Tatum's "new face," says it's the most extensive he knows of.  

Medicare and Medicaid only pay for part of the bills, and bill collectors call almost daily looking for tens of thousands of dollars.

Tatum says two things saved him when he was near death: the love of his wife, Nancy, and a dream in which he saw his granddaughter Leah reaching out for his help.

Said Stadelman: "He is a true testament to the human spirit."


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