Football-sized tumor removed from man's face in Knox surgery

Football-sized tumor removed from man's face in Knoxville surgery

In the last two years, Charlie Patterson's tumor really ballooned. In the last two years, Charlie Patterson's tumor really ballooned.

6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A Nashville man is undergoing a delicate, 14-hour surgery at UT Medical Center to remove a football-sized tumor from his jaw.

Charlie Patterson will also have facial reconstruction after doctors remove two thirds of his jawbone, which is the part that has the tumor, and soft tissue on the inside of his mouth.

The non-cancerous, painless tumor called an ameloblastoma grew slowly for close to 20 years. "As the years went by, it started growing and growing and growing so much I couldn't work anymore," Charlie said.

In the last two years, the tumor really ballooned. Charlie used to do odd jobs. Now he's on disability.

Still Charlie describes himself as "Right, I'm fine." When I asked him where that attitude comes from, he said, "Well it's in the heart. I'm fine."

What makes Charlie feel pain is when people point at him and stare. "I'm the monster," he said.

After realizing the tumor was doing significant damage, a Nashville doctor urged Charlie to seek help from Dr. Eric Carlson and UT Medical Center.

An X-ray shows part of a tooth is buried within the tumor. Doctors say that's what started the tumor's growth.

"The cells that produced this tumor were at one point programmed to form a tooth and instead of forming a tooth, they formed this benign, very large tumor in his jaw," Dr. Carlson explained.

This type of tumor isn't considered the rarest of the rare.

"While these tumors represent approximately one percent of all jaw tumors, this represents a tumor we actually see fairly commonly," Dr. Carlson said.

It's the size of Charlie's tumor that makes his case different and his surgery more difficult.

Dr. Carlson and his team, including a plastic surgeon, began work early on the morning of the surgery to change Charlie's life.

Tissue from his thigh will be transplanted in his mouth to replace what the tumor destroyed. After that's completed, reconstruction will begin on Charlie's face.

"The reconstruction of bone will be afforded with a medically-pure titanium bone plate and screws to give him support of his face, and permit his remaining teeth to come together properly," Dr. Carlson said.

The hope is that these procedures leave Charlie looking and feeling normal again, able to smile and eat the favorite foods he had to give up.

"I always say I want a steak, and I'm going to get one, maybe a rib or two," Charlie said.

Dr. Carlson says Charlie is looking at a two-week hospital stay following his surgery so he'll have to wait a big on that steak dinner.

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