Night Before

Since childhood, Ana Rodarte's life has been defined by neurofibromatis. > > > Audio Slideshow (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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  • Audio slide show: Ana's story Audio slide show: Ana's story
  • About This Series
  • Doctors answer readers' questions about neurofibromatosis
  • PART TWO: Step by surgical step, a life is transformed PART TWO: Step by surgical step, a life is transformed
  • Ana's e-mails
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The doctor wasted no time getting started.

He took Ana's face in his hands and angled the left side up to the light. He squeezed and pushed the folds of skin on her chin, her cheek and forehead. He separated the eyelids to look at her eye.

"Can you see anything?"

"Yeah."

He asked her to track his finger from left to right.

"A little blurry?"

"Yeah."

He didn't usually work so fast, but he had been disoriented by this new patient. She was the last appointment at the end of a busy day, and he had misread the file. He thought she was here to discuss a face lift.

He stepped back to collect his thoughts. Here was a case you might hear about in med school or in conversation with colleagues but never expect to see yourself. The day's routine consultations slipped away -- the breast augmentations, face lifts and tummy tucks -- and he began wondering how he would treat her condition and what he could possibly achieve. He tried to keep his excitement in check.

"I think we might be able to help," he said. "But I'd like to talk with the other doctors on the team."

First, he wanted to take some pictures, and he stepped out of the room to get a camera.

Ana stared straight ahead. At 24, she had seen her share of doctors and listened to their optimism and concern. She didn't want to get her hopes up.

But this doctor -- he said his name was Munish Batra -- wasn't at all what she expected. He was young, good-looking and encouraging.

Maybe things would be different this time.




She had her grandmother's fine features and her mother's hair, and in her parents' hearts, Ana Rodarte was the most beautiful baby around. It was easy for Ismael and Margarita to overlook what seemed at first to be just a birthmark.

She was born a month premature and weighed a little more than 5 pounds. Small enough to fit in a shoe box, Ismael thought, and once they took her home from the hospital in Tijuana, her aunts, uncles and cousins all pitched in to care for her.

She grew quickly, and Margarita captured every milestone with an old Polaroid. On the edge of the snapshots, she carefully wrote Ana's age.