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Successful surgery after wrong cancer diagnosis



LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky medical team has painstakingly repaired the disfiguring injuries to a woman's face, caused by radiation treatments for a cancer she never had that caused a gaping hole in her cheek and made her an outcast in a former Soviet republic.

Lessya Kotelevskaya was recovering Tuesday following the 16-hour surgery the day before at University of Louisville Hospital.

Her surgeon, Dr. Jarrod Little, said the procedure to reconstruct her jawbone and cheek went according to plan.

"Lessya cannot wait to get back to her normal life," her cousin, Oleg Sennik, told reporters.

The 30-year-old's life spiraled into tragedy when she was diagnosed with terminal jaw cancer at age 19 in Kazakhstan after she was accidentally elbowed in the face at a basketball game and her jaw became swollen. The damage from radiation treatments made it difficult to eat and talk.

Sennik spent years searching for his younger cousin, and when he found her she was a mere 79 pounds and living in the shadows of life in Kazakhstan, where the Ukrainian native had lived since childhood. By the time she found out the cancer diagnosis was wrong, she had lost her husband and their clothing boutique. She scraped by for years with odd jobs at night so people wouldn't see her. At one point, she lived in the utility room of a car wash.

Sennik brought Kotelevskaya and her young son to live with him last year in Louisville, where they found medical care to turn around her life.

The surgery included removing a leg bone that was conformed into a new jawbone, with the skin becoming the new inside covering of her mouth.

"It couldn't have gone any better," said Little, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with University of Louisville Physicians.

Before the procedure, Kotelevskaya could barely open her mouth and had to patch the hole in her right cheek to keep food and drink from seeping out. Now, she'll be able to open her jaw without problem, Little said.

Lessya's Story: Woman Disfigured by Medical Mistake Gets Second Chance

Kotelevskaya was not incurring expenses for the care. The surgery was described as a $1 million-plus procedure by a UofL Physicians spokeswoman.

"She came with no money," said Little, who donated his time. "She didn't have anything. With this devastating problem ... her insurance status at that point is irrelevant to me. She needs help and we can help her."

Kotelevskaya is expected to remain hospitalized for two to three weeks, Little said. She will likely need "touch up" procedures later, he said. She can also receive dental implants in about six months.

The surgeon said Kotelevskaya won't look completely like she did before the cancer misdiagnosis and radiation. She will have some scarring on her cheek, "but my job is to make that as least noticeable as possible," he said.

"Everybody has issues; she's going to have her issues," he said. "But these are not anything that's going to keep her from doing anything she wants to do."

Kotelevskaya is in this country on a green card but hopes to become an American citizen, her cousin said.

Since arriving in Kentucky, she has started English lessons and got a driver's license. Her son, now 7, is adjusting well, and she hopes to become a nurse, following in the footsteps of those who cared for her, Sennik said.

Join the discussion

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Barbara Jean Ewert June 25 2014 at 10:43 AM

Did anyone notice that in the video it shows that the injury show up on the different sides of the face? It show up on the left side and on the right side? I do not get it. He is fixing her hair and the bandage is on the different side of her face. I am not sure how that is possible. It is like magic. I do not know how the doctors are all involved if it is a hoax? Very curious what is going on?

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17 replies
reevesj32 June 25 2014 at 10:41 AM

My wife had over 30 radiation treatments to supposedly shrink or somehow despose of a small node that they said was attached to her left lung. This resulted in a huge basketball size burn on her back that they said led to pneumonia. The cause of her death was listed as lung cancer. Yeah, right, B.S! Radiation treatment sucks! Our medical knowledge, treatment, cures, still leaves a lot to be desired.

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2 replies
karen and pitts reevesj32 June 25 2014 at 11:03 AM

yes radiation can suck IF you don't know what you are doing, but can also save a lot of lives in the hands of a knowledgeable doctor. the proverbial two edged sword.

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jasonbossert_ma reevesj32 June 25 2014 at 8:55 PM

Reeves do research sorry for your wives passing but people who are not in the medical field should not be dissing medical treatments!

My mother had breast cancer back in 2001 and had radiation and chemo she developed lymphodema of the breast which is swelling of the lymph-nodes in and around the breast.

She's been Cancer free since 2000, and 14 year survivor. Unfortunately where ever you lived you and your wife were probably one of the few who went to a doctor that missed the diagnosis or your wife didn't catch it earlier First stages are key to surviving cancer It's harder for stage 3 or 4 Cancer patient to survive!

Before you come back at me
I am a Nationally Certified Medical Assistant and have graduated with honors in my program.

But still if you don't know about the medical field don't chime in!

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dhartson June 25 2014 at 10:55 AM

Do any of these doctors really know what they are doing? Really!

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3 replies
tbutlerelaine June 25 2014 at 3:01 PM

socialized medicine, isn't it great?

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3 replies
mnbkny June 25 2014 at 9:44 AM

True altruism doesn't need a press conference. I wish Lessya a full recovery and much future happiness, and am sorry she was put on display by attention-seeking "altruists."

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1 reply
weilunion mnbkny June 25 2014 at 5:02 PM

It is the corporate media that pimped her

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Velocity105 June 25 2014 at 10:03 AM

Such an attractive young lady to have undergone such a heinous misdiagnosis. Too back she can't sue but I would imagine Kazakhstan limits lawsuits to about zero.

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3 replies
Ginny June 25 2014 at 2:46 PM

Wow, goes to show you second and even third opinions should be something to look into.

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1 reply
CORINNE Ginny June 25 2014 at 8:04 PM

In her home country this was probably all she had as a "choice".

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MARTHA & PERRY June 25 2014 at 9:51 AM

what do you call someone who finished last in med school? doctor.

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4 replies
karen and pitts June 25 2014 at 11:00 AM

this has got to be a hoax. can't happen. a scraping is taken of the suspect area that is sent to a lab. they determine cancer or not. then patient is referred to a skin cancer surgeon an it is cut out NOT radiated. end of story either she , her doctor or the lab are morons. maybe all of them!

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3 replies
Fred June 25 2014 at 3:27 PM

This is one of the things that makes America great.

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