A Smile That Takes Your Breath Away

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When it comes to facial paralysis, 70 per cent of the time it’s the result of Bell’s Palsy, which, because of its sudden onset, makes most people think that they have had a stroke. However, facial paralysis can also result from the removal of a brain tumour such as an acoustic neuroma (a tumour in the hearing nerve).

Eight-year-old Dale Wiebe stands out as a remarkable success story.

Affected since birth with facial paralysis from Bell’s Palsy, he was unable to move and isolate most of the muscles on the right side of his face. With other health conditions to deal with, facial physiotherapy came at the end of a long list of treatments sought by Dale and his parents, Carolyn and Tom. They found the care they needed from physiotherapist Beth Kroetsch.

“Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect,” says Kroetsch about her work. Starting last May, Kroetsch worked with Dale and his mother to achieve that perfect practice. At first, Kroetsch was not sure about Dale’s chances for success, after having facial paralysis for eight years. “But he seemed mature enough and he was willing to do the work,” she recalls.

“She never gave me false hope, but just said clet’s give it a try’,” says Wiebe about Kroetsch. “She was just so calm and positive, a gentle spirit. She talked directly to Dale, focused on him and brought herself to his level. Every time there was a bit of improvement, she got so excited!”

Kroetsch helped Dale to develop an effective home program of exercises. The facial exercises were designed to meet the level of weakness in the paralyzed muscles. Every day, Dale sat in front of a mirror and practised exercises to train his face. Returning to Joseph Brant, Kroetsch would gradually progress his exercises, building on the strength developed over the last week.

“It took my breath away when I saw that smile,” she remembers about four to five weeks into therapy. Reducing their commute from St. Catharines to monthly appointments, Dale and his parents continued the exercise program themselves at home, adding a relaxation strategy to recharge the muscles and pump circulation into the area.

“Dale is such an agreeable child,” says his mother. “I didn’t want him to hate doing this, but he was so cooperative. When he did the exercises, I made the faces too. He somehow found a muscle or nerve he didn’t know he had. His smile turned out better than expected.”

Kroetsch was thrilled to see Dale’s school photo in November. It showed a happy young boy with a brilliant smile that radiated confidence and pride. A contrast from previous photos that showed the problems associated with Dale’s facial paralysis – a wide staring eye, sagging cheek, a drooping corner of his mouth, and a smile that was all left-sided. This photo demonstrated results that Kroetsch had not thought possible.

“My patients do 95 per cent of the work and can take 95 per cent of the credit,” says Kroetsch. “It is a privilege working with someone like Dale who has lost so much and must work so hard to get anything back.”

Facial therapy is in high demand from affected patients, but in short supply – there are only about 35 – 40 certified facial physiotherapists in Canada.

Joseph Brant continues to support these kinds of health-care programs and services that have such positive outcomes. It’s what we do: we put our patients and families first.