‘The finishing touch’


A new jaw brought big changes for Wyatt Peterson as he started his freshman year of college.

With a custom titanium jawbone implanted, he could eat, breathe and speak more easily.

“I’m able to open my mouth wider. It seems like I have a lot more room,” he said.

Wyatt’s jaw was reconstructed—and expanded—during a complex and intricately planned surgery at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital by pediatric craniofacial plastic surgeons John Polley, MD, and John Girotto, MD.

Once Wyatt recovered, he had a decision to make: Did he want to undergo a follow-up operation to bring his chin into better alignment?

Ultimately, Wyatt decided he could handle one more surgery—and he is glad he did.

In May 2020, about 10 months after his major jaw surgery, he returned to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Polley performed a surgery to bring Wyatt’s chin forward and in line with the center of his face. He fixed it in position with plates and screws.

The operation “was the finishing touch for Wyatt,” Dr. Girotto said.

Fortunately for Wyatt, the operation was much shorter and he recovered much more quickly.

And the result was well worth it.

“I really like the outcome,” Wyatt said. “It’s a small change, but big at the same time, I can definitely tell a difference. My face is a lot straighter.”

Two surgeries

The jaw surgeries represent the latest steps in a long medical journey for Wyatt, a 19-year-old from Iowa.

He was born with a Goldenhar syndrome, a rare condition that affected the development of his spine and face. He had a very small right jawbone, which restricted his ability to open his mouth.

As an infant, he received occupational therapy to help him eat, with the restricted opening in his jaw. As a child, he underwent surgeries on his spine, jaw and eye.

Those medical moments didn’t slow down his busy childhood, as he played with his brothers, Logan and Connor, and kept up with academics and sports.

In his teen years, Wyatt and his parents, Kris and Joe Peterson, looked for options to expand his jaw.

Their research led them to Drs. Polley and Dr. Girotto, who have developed an innovative surgical technique, in which a jawbone and joint is custom designed for each patient.

Wyatt became one of the first in the country to undergo this patient-specific surgery.

In July 2019, Wyatt came to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the surgery in which the doctors implanted the prosthetic device. During the operation, the surgeons also reworked Wyatt’s upper jaw, bringing it forward and centering it.

The operation meant three weeks of recovery for Wyatt, with his jaws wired shut, in the summer before he started his freshman year at Mount Mercy University in Iowa.

But once he could open his mouth, he could feel and see the difference.

“I thought it came out really well,” he said. “I like it a lot.”

He started college, taking classes with a goal of entering the nursing program. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he finished his classes and exams online.

But Wyatt still loved his college experience.

After his freshman year, Wyatt worked a summer job as a nurse technologist at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The experience reinforced his desire to become a nurse. This fall, he entered Mount Mercy’s Martin-Herold College of Nursing & Health.

Wyatt found his medical experiences throughout his childhood helped him empathize with patients in the hospital.

“It’s kind of weird being on that side of things,” he said. “It helped that I was on the other side as a kid, because I kind of know what they are going through. I think I can help them a little bit better.”

Wyatt also took time from his summer schedule to get the second surgery—the one that straightened his chin.

“I thought why not correct it even more and make it look better,” he said.

A few weeks after the surgery, he saw his doctors—in a virtual telemedicine visit, and all were pleased with the outcome.

“Wyatt has been through a lot,” Dr. Girotto said. “It is great that our resources and technology have advanced to the point where we can customize our reconstruction for him.”

He predicted a great future for Wyatt as he moves ahead with plans for a nursing career.

“For all of us, our life experiences guide our direction,” Dr. Girotto said. “It is inspiring that Wyatt is choosing to pursue health care and is motivated to give back to others.”

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