A man in Michigan who suffered from a rare kind of cancer and lost half of his face to the disease is receiving a second shot at life due to a surgeon who is assisting him in rebuilding his features using skin taken from his leg and forearm.
Tim McGrath is speaking out for the first time about his three-year fight in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE. He also explains why he is happy that his story has gone viral.
After McGrath complained of jaw discomfort in February 2014, he saw his primary doctor who made the first diagnosis of synovial sarcoma.
McGrath continues, “I had a biopsy, and due to the unusual nature of the sample, it was sent to a specialized lab for analysis.” It was first hypothesized that it was a tumor of the pituitary gland, which are typically of a benign nature. I’m sorry to report that I have some unpleasant news.”
The Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative reports that rarely 1-3 out of every million persons are diagnosed with the illness each year. Sarcoma is a kind of cancer that affects soft tissues and most often manifests itself in the legs or neck.
After understanding how invasive the process would be to remove it, McGrath first sought for non-surgical remedies as an alternative to having it removed.
According to McGrath, “I despised hospitals and I was very health conscious prior to receiving the diagnosis.” “I felt I had the discipline to seek other modalities.”
The naturopathic therapies that McGrath elected to use included, among other things, a stringent diet, a supplement program, energy therapy, and psychological counseling. However, over the course of the subsequent 18 months, the tumor continued to expand, and by the middle of May 2015, McGrath was compelled to have a tracheotomy and a feeding tube inserted.
Chemotherapy did not work, so McGrath’s physicians switched to radiation treatment, which eventually led to results: the tumor began to shrink. In October 2015, when the size had been reduced, doctors spent a total of thirty hours removing the residual lump.
“Prior to surgery, I was told that the worst case scenario would result in me losing most or all of my jaw, as well as my eye and ear,” recalls McGrath. “The tumor had shrunk to the point where I believed that it would be a quick procedure, that I wouldn’t lose my eye or ear, and that I would be back to eating soon.”
When McGrath finally opened his eyes, he saw that “the worst case scenario was the reality.”
His body resisted the first efforts to repair McGrath’s bone structure, despite the fact that the plan called for it to be done. Because of the scars from his prior procedures, McGrath’s choices for reconstructive surgery were even more restricted, and he was forced to live with his exposed skin.
In April of the previous year, McGrath made the decision to transfer surgeons. He went to see Dr. Kongkrit Chaiyasate, who performed the reconstruction of McGrath’s face using skin and muscle taken from his left leg, left forearm, and a flap taken from his forehead. Chaiyasate has performed a total of five surgical procedures on McGrath, and not a single one of them has been unsuccessful.
McGrath gushes, “He has been an incredible blessing for our family.” Since then, he has performed five operations on my face, and the transformation that has taken place is nothing short of remarkable.
Now that he has been cleared of cancer, McGrath will spend the next year building up his strength in preparation for completing the reconstruction in the winter of 2018.
“At this point in time, Dr. Chaiyasate acknowledges that I have been through an incredible amount of stress on my body,” notes McGrath. “He wants everything to rest and heal over the course of the next year.” “He wants me to live my life to the fullest and take advantage of every opportunity,” I said.
He is now concentrating on recovering the capacity to speak more clearly and sip liquids through his mouth, as well as eating through his mouth.
McGrath claims that his family has been his biggest supporters, and he adds that his “mom became my at-home nurse for wound changes, IVs, feedings, and so much more,” while his father has “stood by my side from the very start.”
“We were a close family before but have grown closer to one another because of this journey,” he writes, expressing admiration for his three siblings and friends. “This journey has brought us closer together.” “Those friends continue to amaze me with their support through fundraisers and websites, and with the fact that they are always reaching out to me.”
McGrath acknowledges that it has taken him some time to get up the motivation to share his story. “I did not want to be reminded of all the things I had to endure,” he says, adding that today he is focused on how his trauma has altered his perspective. “I did not want to be reminded of all the things I had to endure,” he adds.
“Going through this has taught me that I am so much more than just my exterior,” says McGrath. “This has taught me that I am so much more than just my appearance.” “I hope that my story can motivate people to be thankful, on a daily basis, that they are healthy and that they are able to take pleasure in the uncomplicated things that life has to offer.”
He continues by saying, “I am not someone who enjoys being in the spotlight, but I knew that my story needed to be shared.” Everything that I’ve been through has been worth it because I know that sharing my experience has the potential to save lives, transform lives, and inspire love.