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Women Gets Second Chance After Cancer Misdiagnosis

medical malpractice statisticsA cancer misdiagnosis caused a single mother to become disfigured by radiation treatments that she never actually needed.

Lessya Kotelevskaya was an impoverished single mother living in Kazakhstan, until a long-lost cousin from Louisville tracked her down last year. Kotelevskaya was barely able to open her jaw to eat, weighing just 79 pounds.

Her cousin had been trying to find her since the early 1990’s, since their Ukrainian-born family fell out of touch after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Kotelevskaya’s cousin has since brought her to Louisville, but before doing so took her to new doctors who concluded that a growth in her jaw she had believed was cancerous for more than 10 years, was actually not. This lifted an incredible weigh from the woman’s shoulders, effectively allowing the 30-year old mother a chance at a brand new, long-lasting life.

Starting over after cancer misdiagnosis

A Louisville reconstructive surgeon heard Kotelevskaya’s story and volunteered to help. The surgeon has joined forces with the University of Louisville Hospital to donate more than $1 million in surgeries and care to correct the damage caused by the intense radiation treatment, resulting from her cancer misdiagnosis. The treatment melted away her skin and bone, leaving a whole in her face that made it extremely difficult to eat, drink, talk, and find work.

Dr. Jarrod Little, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with the University of Louisville Physicians has planned several months of surgeries to reconstruct parts of the woman’s jaw, cheek, and mouth.

“This is my best wish, that I had all these years, to have a normal face, to eat and live like everybody else,” Kotelevskaya, 30, said in interview, with her Louisville cousin, Oleg Sennik, translating for her.

Reconstructing the damage to Kotelevskaya’s face will be a challenging process for Dr. Little.

First, he’ll place a balloon under the skin of her neck to expand it, so it can be used later to cover the damaged area of her face. Next, in January, he’ll perform a 20-hour surgery to remove almost roughly half her jaw and replace it with a piece of fibula from her leg, with her skin and blood vessels still attached. He’ll then reshape it and reattach her skin, blood vessels and nerves to her face, and use the stretched skin to cover the outside of her cheek.

In time, after months of healing and minor surgeries, Dr. Little hopes to attach prosthetic teeth. He says the ultimate goal of the surgeries is to allow Kotelevskaya to talk, drink, and chew with ease. The failure to diagnosis her condition years ago left able to open her mouth barely more than an inch. She can only eat solid food by balling up small amounts and pushing it back into her mouth.

Life after cancer misdiagnosis

Following years of searching, Sennik finally tracked his cousin down in January 2012. Before bringing her and her son back to the United States, he took her to a leading oncologist in Kiev for more medical tests.

After examining her original pathology slides, discussing her case with experts, and ordering countless new tests, the doctor determined that Kotelevskaya never had a malignant form of cancer.

Upon receiving her life changing diagnosis, she came to the U.S. with Sennik. Kotelevskaya says she is not angry about her misdiagnosis, but is instead looking forward to the future.

She has started to learn English and is working towards getting her driver’s license. After her surgeries, she plans to study nursing and hopes to become a U.S. citizen.