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Chelsey Thomas Has a Smile for the First Time, Anxious for 8th Birthday

June 20, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The 7-year-old girl whose nerve disorder gave her a perpetually sad look is now grinning ear-to-ear after two delicate surgeries.

Chelsey Thomas turns 8 next week and she’s practicing for a big party to debut her new smile. The July 29 birthday celebration includes a huge party and a limousine ride to Disneyland for Chelsey Day at the theme park.

``She’s been to Disneyland before, but she’s never been able to smile″ while she was there, Lori Thomas, her mother, told The Associated Press while Chelsey was at school Thursday.

Doctors who operated on each side of her face in December and April had predicted it would take six to eight weeks before they would know whether their efforts were successful.

``We’re thrilled. The surgery worked. As of Saturday, she has what is something close to a smile,″ her mother said. ``She can use the smile pretty well, but it’s not spontaneous.

``But she’s practicing. She’s working on that. This is all new to us. We still ask her all the time, `Show us your smile.‴

The corners of Chelsey’s mouth had sagged because she was born without the nerve that transmits commands to facial muscles. The condition, Moebius syndrome, afflicts about 1,000 people in the United States.

The $70,000 cost of the surgeries was covered by the family’s health insurer, Kaiser Permanente, since the procedures weren’t considered cosmetic.

Doctors at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in suburban Woodland Hills removed muscles and nerves from Chelsey’s leg and transplanted them to her face. The blond, blue-eyed youngster will be examined at the hospital next Wednesday by Dr. Avron Daniller.

``He knows about her progress and he’s excited,″ Mrs. Thomas said. ``We’re very happy, too. Very relieved.″

The next step for Chelsey is a trip to the orthodontist.

``She definitely needs braces,″ her mother said. ``But we expected that.″

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