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Little Girl Still Waits for That First Smile

The Barbies and stuffed animals stopped arriving a few weeks ago, but cards and letters still come every day to Chelsey Thomas, the towheaded 7-year-old from Palmdale who doctors say is very close to fulfilling her lifelong dream of smiling.

Born with a rare medical condition called Moebius syndrome that causes paralysis of the facial muscles, the second-grader underwent two separate, daylong micro-vascular surgeries in April and December at Kaiser Permanente’s Woodland Hills Medical Center. The goal was to give her a smile.

Seven weeks after the first surgery, Chelsey managed a partial smile. As the news spread, calls, cards and gifts--about 30 stuffed animals and half a dozen Barbie dolls--came pouring in from well-wishers around the world.

Now, about five weeks after her second operation, Chelsey’s mother, Lori Thomas, says there are no signs yet of a full smile. (Doctors said it would take at least seven weeks.) But anticipation is rising, and the “smile party” that Chelsey asked her parents to throw for her birthday on June 29 is looming.

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Chelsey is starting to feel some pressure, her mother said. “She asked me the other day: ‘Mom, what if this [second] surgery doesn’t work?’ ”

After all, Disneyland wants to throw a parade in her honor. A singer from the Puerto Rican pop group Menudo wants to sing “Happy Birthday” at her party. Doctors and nurses from Kaiser have asked to come.

“I told her: ‘Well, if you’re not smiling by your birthday, we’ll just have to put the party off for a few months,’ ” Lori Thomas said.

In July, Chelsey will attend the Moebius Syndrome Foundation conference in Tarrytown, N.Y. Lori Thomas organized the nonprofit foundation in 1991 with Van Nuys resident Vicki McCarrell, whose son also has the condition.

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For more information about the conference, call (805) 267-2570.


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