A 5-year-old girl undergoes life-changing surgery to remove a giant tumor on her face

A girl had to have life-changing surgery to remove a facial tumour which became so big it was crushing her windpipe.

Ignacia Sanmartin has a benign tumour around her chin and cheeks that made it hard for her to breathe and risking killing her.

The girl, from Villa Alemana, Chile, had a 14-hour operation to remove the growth to stop it increasing in size even further.

The tumour, made up of a lot of tiny cysts, may grow back in the future so medics will monitor the young girl in the hope that any reoccurrence will be small.

Scroll down for video

Ignacia Sanmartin, five, had to have surgery to remove a lympangioma – a growth of cysts on her face and neck – which had become so large it threatened to suffocate her

Ignacia’s mother, Danitza, said before the tumour was removed: ‘When she gets sick or gets a cold she can’t breathe properly. Sometimes the tumour hurts Ignacia when it grows.

‘This gives her earache, she has problems with balance, and it also hurts her to chew and the base of her tongue hurts.’

The growth – known as a lymphangioma – was caused by malfunctioning lymph vessels in her neck, which are a crucial part of the immune system.

But the lymph vessels had become out-of-control and produced a tumour which wouldn’t stop growing.

Her father, Jonathan, added: ‘The other day she came to me and said, ‘Daddy, big, big.’ So as she gets older, she’s starting to realise her face is not the same as the other kids’. It worries us a lot.’

However, Igancia’s suffering may be brought to an end after recent drastic surgery to remove the tumour, performed by maxillofacial surgeon, Dr Gonzalo Rossel.

Dr Rossel explained: ‘Where there’s a fault in the lymph ducts, they slowly start to produce a tumour that is more of a cystic origin, which can have small or large cysts that grow.

‘In the future it’s likely there [would] be an increase in compression and we could have problems with the operation of the airway.

Ignacia’s parents, Danitza and Jonathan, from Chile, found out she had the problem before she was born, but it grew out of control to the point where it was affecting her breathing

The family say they had to put up with cruel comments as well as supportive ones, and doctors had been too nervous to operate on the growth because it was so large – when it was eventually removed, part of it bled a lot because it was so well connected to blood vessels

‘So it’s really important that we remove the tumour now.’

Lymphangiomas can happen anywhere on the body but are most commonly found in the head and neck.

They occur when lymph vessels fail to form correctly, which causes excess fluid to build up and results in a benign tumour-like swelling.

They are usually present from birth, but the exact cause is not known.

Ms Sanmartin was only three-and-a-half months pregnant when a scan revealed the serious problem.

Since Igancia was born, the parents have been battling for someone to treat their daughter, and have had to endure stares and mean comments about her.

Her mother said: ‘The comments that I’ve had to listen to have come from both sides of the coin.

‘Really tender ones, or I’ve heard them say, “Look at this girl coming over here doesn’t she look ugly. She looks like a monster.”

‘She is not a freak, she’s a normal girl who is sick.’

Doctors had always been too nervous to operate on Ignacia because of the size of the tumour, but Dr Gonzalo finally agreed to do the surgery.

The surgeon’s main aim was to remove the tumour before it caused fatal damage to the five-year-old.

The operation was high-risk and took a dangerous turn when, after most of the growth had been removed, a remaining part was so fused with blood vessels it quickly bled when it was cut, risking Ignacia’s life.

As Ignacia had grown older she’d begun to realise her face was different to other children’s, her father said, and they worried it would upset her in the future

Ignacia (pictured being shown her face by a psychiatrist for the first time after surgery) had the growth as part of a lymphatic malformation, which is when part of the immune system in the neck does not form properly and it causes fluid to build up

The growth could come back in the future but Ignacia’s surgeon, Dr Gonzalo Rossel, said he hopes anything that returns should be ‘minimal’ because he has removed most of the tumour

The family are happy with the results and Ignacia’s father, Jonathan, said: ‘It’s a drastic change to her face. You can tell that the surgeons and the whole medical team did an exceptional job with our girl’

But 14 hours later, the operation was declared a success.

Dr Gonzalo said: ‘We’ll have to work out how we can help her if it reappears.

‘However, as we have removed the origin I’m hopeful that if there’s something it’ll be minimal.’

Igancia’s parents are overwhelmed with joy for their daughter and, despite some complications in her recovery, Ignacia is doing well.

Her father said: ‘It’s a drastic change to her face. You can tell that the surgeons and the whole medical team did an exceptional job with our girl. So, it’s great.’

Igancia’s story is featured on this week’s Body Bizarre on TLC, alongside a story about 27-year-old Thomas who has a rare bone-eating disease which is destroying his torso, and teenager Harry who has Goldenhar Syndrome.