2/4/02 - Heartland Man Gets "New Face"

Plastic surgeons often give people a new nose or a tick here 'n' there, but doctors in Kentucky are giving Mark Tatum a new face. Tatum says, "Folks, y'all are ready to see from ugly to pretty. That's a guarantee." The prosthesis is not exactly like his real face, but never mind that, Tatum says, considering that statistically speaking, he shouldn't even be alive.

Few people survive such a raging case of mucormycosis, a rare fungal infection. His doctors aren't quite sure how he got it. The infection started in his sinuses and spread very quickly. To keep the fungus from travelling to his brain and killing him, doctors had to remove Tatum's infected eyes, nose, cheekbones, upper jaw and teeth.

Dr. Wayne Stadelman at the University of Louisville Medical Center says, "Initially we did not think he was going to survive. The prognosis was extremely grim." Now, two years and 11 surgeries later, this is the moment Tatum has been waiting for. Dr. Zafrulla Khan at the University of Louisville tells Tatum, "Come down, there's your eyes, your eyebrows. Now come down, there's your nose and your cheeks." Tatum feels with his hands, where his prosthetic face will be.

Here's how doctors at the University of Louisville made Tatum's face.  First, using skin and tissue from his leg, they re-constructed the roof of his mouth so he could speak and eat. Then they took a bone from his leg and put it into his face. On top of that bone they built titanium bridgework. Magnets in that bridgework hold the prosthetic face in place.

Tatum says two things saved him when he was near death: the love of his wife, Nancy and a dream he had of his granddaughter Leah reaching out for his help. He and his family still have a rough road ahead. Tatum suffered several strokes. The right side of his body is partially paralyzed and he takes 15 medicines a day. Medicare and Medicaid only pay for part of the bills and bill collectors call almost daily looking for tens of thousands of dollars. Tatum hopes that the prosthetic will get him out more in public. Perhaps he'll get a job, perhaps now he'll have a life something like the one he had before. Tatum says, "Look at me now, I may not be beautiful but I'm damn near it."