OKLAHOMA CITY – For 22-year-old Emily Wyman, a complex jaw joint replacement surgery at Mercy saved her life.
When Wyman was about 12, she began to notice her chin receding. She was diagnosed with progressive condylar resorption, a rare degenerative jaw bone disorder most often seen in adolescent girls.
As Wyman went through puberty, the condition got progressively worse, resulting in a smaller chin, a difficult time breathing and biting into foods, and a lot of bullying at school.
“Around ages 16 to 20 is when the bullying got worse because the outside look of my face was completely different than when I was younger,” said Wyman, of Green Bay, Wisconsin. “It was hard because I was called ‘no chin.’”
As an athlete participating in track and cross country, her rare bone disease greatly impacted her ability to participate in sports because her airway was one-third the size of a normal airway. This means she was inhaling less air than the average person. Because of this, she experienced sleep apnea and could not sit up straight without gasping for air.
Her oral surgeon in Green Bay recommended she see Dr. Steven Sullivan, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Oklahoma City, since he is among a small group of oral surgeons in the country that specializes in complex jaw joint replacement surgeries.
After a long process involving braces to align her teeth in the right position; a three-dimensional scan of her jaw; and the creation of custom-made jaw joints, Wyman underwent an eight-hour surgery at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City in October 2013 to replace the jaw joints and reposition the upper jaw and chin.
The results were remarkable.
“I absolutely love it,” she said. “I am so grateful. I love the look to the human eye, but everything has changed. I can finally bite into food I’ve never been able to eat, such as steak, pizza and burgers. And I can sit up straight without gasping for air because my airway is so open now. It was a crazy up and down, up and down, but now I am so emotionally stable. It feels great.”
Science, Art and Lots of Skill
Each year, Sullivan sees about eight to 10 cases like Wyman’s. In addition to progressive condylar resorption, he also performs a similar jaw joint replacement surgery for more common conditions, including routine degenerative joint disease, which is normal wear-and-tear on the jaw joint as people age, and tumors on or near the jaw joints.
“It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science,” said Sullivan. “It’s science from the standpoint that we use technology to help with a treatment plan. And art from the standpoint of looking at an individual and being able to say where we want things to be from an aesthetic standpoint.”
Whether it’s art, science or a combination of both, Wyman said the experience changed her life for the better.
Each surgery also has a profound impact on Sullivan’s life.
“It’s remarkable what we are able to do for some of these kids,” he said. “It’s been a really rewarding experience all the way around. I do it because I love it. I do around 190 corrective jaw surgeries each year and I learn from every single case.”
To learn more or book a consultation, contact Dr. Steven Sullivan at the Oral Facial Surgery Center in Oklahoma City at 405-271-4955.
Mercy is the fifth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves millions annually. Mercy includes 34 acute care hospitals, four heart hospitals, two children’s hospitals, three rehab hospitals and two orthopedic hospitals, nearly 700 clinic and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.