It'll be another eight weeks before Chelsey Thomas can smile, but the 7-year-old was in good condition on Saturday as she recovered from a 12-hour operation to correct a birth defect that prevented her from moving facial muscles.
Chelsey remained in intensive care and spent part of the day on a respirator, hospital officials said.
On Friday, doctors at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center transplanted a muscle, blood vessels and parts of a nerve from Chelsey's thigh to her face, said Kaiser spokeswoman Linda Quon. To avoid scarring Chelsey's face, Quon said, doctors used a technique similar to a face lift.
A Canadian specialist who pioneered the transplant technique led the surgery team.
Lori Thomas, Chelsey's mother, said the second-grader arrived in the recovery room marred only by tiny pieces of gauze and tape on her face. Chelsey couldn't talk because of the respirator, but indicated that she was happy, hungry and thirsty by nodding after her mother's questions.
Chelsey, born with a rare neurological condition called Moebius syndrome, will remain in the hospital for a few more days, her mother said, then move on to her bed at home for two weeks. Even after she is authorized to move around, she will need to avoid crowds to keep her face from being jostled, and will have to be careful not to fall.
In about eight weeks, after the nerves in her face grow onto the nerve from the new muscle, Chelsey can begin learning to smile.
"The way she'll smile is by biting down on her back teeth," her mother said. "It'll never be spontaneous like we smile, but it will be pretty natural after a while."
At first, Chelsey will be able to smile only on the left side of her mouth because doctors still need to transplant a muscle on the right side. She will undergo a second operation in a few months, her mother said.
For now, though, the little girl must rest and heal.
"I'm relieved that she's out of surgery," Lori Thomas said. "I'm relieved that the first side is done. I want her to have side two, but I'm not ready to send her back in tomorrow for it."