Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Surgery May Heal 'Werewolf Disease'

PHILADELPHIA -- Children in her native Puerto Rico would run away screaming from 2-year-old Abys DeJesus. Adults would often stare and mutter at the toddler with the mask of dense brown hair over her nose and half her face.


Abys faced a life of isolation, as well as the possibility of an early death. Her condition, known as congenital hairy nevus, is potentially fatal.


But a Philadelphia pediatric surgeon says a three-month procedure scheduled to begin Tuesday could leave the girl nearly unscarred, and virtually remove the risk that the furred patch may develop into a highly dangerous from of skin cancer.


"The operation should improve her appearance 500 percent," said Dr. Adrian Lo of St. Christopher's Hospital.


The surgeon plans to insert balloon-like implants into Abys' forehead, cheek, nape, and neck -- five in all -- and gradually expand them with saline solution. Lo has used the technique on other reconstructive surgeries, but nothing this extensive.


The idea is to stretch the skin of the girl's face bit-by-bit. After two months, the implants will be removed, the hairy portion of her skin will be cut away, and the extended flesh stitched over the large abscess.


The result is expected to be much more attractive than a skin graft, which often leaves odd puckers and valleys due to the thinner skin employed.


There will be some peripheral scarring from the stitches, Lo said, but few other signs.


"She's a darling girl, and this will give her a chance for a happier life," Lo said.


The girl's mother, 18-year-old Cindly DeJesus, and father came to the United States looking for help when they heard about Lo from a friend who worked at St. Christopher's.


"Doctors in Puerto Rico told us she had cancer and all they could do was measure it," DeJesus said. "We spent all the money our friends and family could raise, but we had to do something for her."


The girl's condition is extremely rare and reported only a few times in medical journals, where it was once described as "human werewolf syndrome," Lo said.


Neither her 11-month-old sister, Luisette, nor her newborn brother, Luis, are similarly afflicted, nor is anyone else on either side of the family.


The family is staying in a sparsely furnished tenement apartment in North Philadelphia. Abys is mostly kept inside with her Barney dinosaur doll, rarely taken outdoors to face her neighbors.


"A beautiful little baby like Abys deserves better than that," said her grandmother, Marta Cintron. "She shouldn't have to stay inside."