Christine Brown's facial surgery complicated by Dunedin water contamination

Surgeon Dr Matthew Leaper looks at a scan of Christine Brown's skull ahead of reconstructing her face during a 16-hour ...

Surgeon Dr Matthew Leaper looks at a scan of Christine Brown's skull ahead of reconstructing her face during a 16-hour operation on Tuesday.

A 16-hour face reconstruction on a Southland woman at Dunedin Hospital was complicated by tap water to the operating theatre becoming contaminated.

Untreated water entered Dunedin's public water supply, with the issue coming to a head for the hospital halfway through a long and complex operation on Christine Brown's face on Tuesday.

"It meant water to the hospital became unusable halfway through the operation," surgeon Matthew Leaper said.

New look: Christine Brown, about 12 hours after her face reconstruction surgery at Dunedin Hospital.

New look: Christine Brown, about 12 hours after her face reconstruction surgery at Dunedin Hospital.

"It was a bit of a challenge."

Bullied woman's face to be reconstructed
Christine Brown's face reconstruction a success

Tap water is used in surgeries for the clinicians to "scrub up" and to sterilise instruments.

Invercargill woman Christine Brown, with husband Lee, before her face reconstruction at Dunedin Hospital on Tuesday.

Invercargill woman Christine Brown, with husband Lee, before her face reconstruction at Dunedin Hospital on Tuesday.

The surgeons operating on Brown improvised, and instead used bottled water and a chemical and disinfectant for hand washing.

Other routine surgeries scheduled at the hospital were cancelled due to the water contamination, he said. 

It was one of many issues the clinical team dealt with during one of the most challenging surgeries of Leaper's career.

A 3D scan of Christine Brown's skull, who suffers from the disease Neurofibromatosis, reveals a missing cheek bone ahead ...

A 3D scan of Christine Brown's skull, who suffers from the disease Neurofibromatosis, reveals a missing cheek bone ahead of her operation on Tuesday. The operation to align her face has been called a success by surgeons.

He was pleased with the final outcome, but obstacles had to be overcome during Brown's marathon face surgery.

Ad Feedback

"Everything was a bit tricky the whole way through," Leaper said. 

"Her skin tissue wasn't normal, there was scarring from previous surgeries and she's missing an artery to the right side of her cheek. 

"The anatomy wasn't as one would expect."

The first 90 minutes of the operation were taken up by anaesthetists putting "lines" into Brown.

The surgeons then lifted the right side of Brown's face, and at 1pm they made the decision to go ahead with removing bone from her fibula, in her leg, to make her a cheek bone.

"When we decided she had vessels in her neck, it meant we could connect the bone from her leg [to her face]," Leaper said.

"You need something to connect to."

They cut an 11-centimetre bone from her leg and used it to rebuild the right side of her face.

The majority of the bone was used as a cheek bone, but some was also used to recontour her eye socket so her lower eyelid could be reattached.

The surgeons attached the cheekbone into her face using screws and plates, and connected it to the vessel in her neck.

"It took hold, it's quite neat how it works . . . it's still got blood flowing," Leaper said.

The cheek bone has given her face structure and support.

"We also took some fat from her tummy to fill a defect in her temple," he said.

Other work included widening and shortening Brown's ear canal and lifting her ear to the correct level on her head.

The surgery was reasonably difficult because of scarring on her face from multiple previous surgeries, Leaper said.

"Her skin was very stretched from the side of her face being so sagged down.

"There were a lot of growths on her face, so the tissue was quite abnormal and the skin had thinned because it had stretched over time.

"The skin on the side of her face was quite abnormal."

Three surgeons and two surgical registrars did the operation, while anaesthetists and nurses were also involved.

The surgeons had taken turns, he said.

"It's all gone well, it's really pleasing.

"She's recovering well and everything is going to plan, which is nice . . . things are significantly improved."

It was too early to say if more operations would be needed, though it was possible she would need a "little tidy up".

The surgeons had "built up" the right side of Brown's face, which had sunken in.

"It will be swollen for a little while, we will see how it settles down," he said.

"But this operation has been the main event, lifting everything back up, and it's gone really well."  

He was optimistic the side of her face would stay up long term.

"It all looks quite stable. It's a long road ahead but I am optimistic.

"She's looking good, actually. It's surprising when you see the difference, golly, it's nice." 

Brown was born with neurofibromatosis, which causes multiple tumours to grow on nerves in her body, including her face.

When aged 7, a massive tumour dragging her face down was operated on for the first time, and she had undergone multiple operations over the years.

She has now endured 18 surgeries on her face.

The first 17 had been unsuccessful in aligning her face, but Brown's husband, Lee, speaking from her hospital bedside on Friday, said the 18th operation on Tuesday had the best outcome of them all.

"They said from the outset what they were going to do and what they wanted to achieve and that it might fail. But it didn't.

"They are brilliant. What they have done is absolutely miraculous." 

His wife, recovering in Dunedin Hospital, was sedated and in no condition to chat to Stuff on Friday.

She had still not seen herself in the mirror after the operation.

 - The Southland Times


Ad Feedback
special offers

Toll rage continues in the north

Retirees on limited incomes are more likely to be impacted by toll calls in the north (file photo).

Northern residents still smarting over Auckland toll call areas.

'Lengthy delays' after breakdown

Traffic was heavily congested after the breakdown.

Southern motorway finally cleared after traffic grinds to standstill.

Party's $100K damage bill video

The walls of the house were tagged and riddled with holes.

An open invite on Facebook, an empty house and the trail of destruction caught on video.

Woman hit by car dies

A woman is dead after being hit by car in Northland overnight.

A 67-year-old woman is dead after being hit by a car near Kaikohe.


The rise, and rise, of Kāpiti

A new housing subdivision in the northern end of Waikanae illustrates the rapid expansion of the Kapiti coast.

It's a strip of land north of Wellington facing more change in a few years than most districts face in decades - $2 billion worth.

Oh baby, cash for eggs?

"Emma" was only given life because of the kindness of a donor she never met. (Stock photo)

Woman conceived with donated sperm decries idea of big pharma taking hold in process.

Grand plans for Grand Arcade

An artist's rendering of the refurbished Grand Arcade, forecast to be completed early 2019.

The building is the site of one of the few fatalities in Wellington due to an earthquake.

How the sevens were lost

In total, less than 18,000 spectators attended the Wellington Sevens across both days - the stadium's capacity is 32,500.

Organisers were in losing battle for an event Wellington had fallen out of love with, emails show.


'This can never happen again'

Neil Jones died after what the coroner called an "appalling" failure of care by the Canterbury District Health Board in 2013.

Neil Jones was more than a homeless alcoholic left at a bus stop. He was a father, a son, a brother and a friend.

Flaws in Watson case video

Ben Smart and Olivia Hope disappeared in the Marlborough Sounds in 1998.

Even now, almost 20 years on, Guy Wallace still has moments when he racks his brain for details lost to time.

A lifetime of compassion

Pauliina at her home in Little River.

Doctor in a rural African village, psychiatrist, language buff and art history graduate – Pirkko Verrier Jones was a woman of varied talents.

New shops and foodcourt planned

A new foodcourt and seating areas for diners will be added at the southern end of Northlands mall.

Christchurch's Northlands Mall is planning to embark on another extension.


Lisa Vanin places at WOW

The Cloak of Pīwakawaka, by Lisa Vanin, onstage on Friday night.

Cambridge designer Lisa Vanin places second in the Aotearoa section at WOW.

Six-vehicle crash

Diversions are in place at the Link Road intersection south of the crash.

Three cars, a van, a motorbike and truck are involved, closing SH1 near Wairakei.

Robber chased

The superette is on the corner of Edinburgh Road and Brocas Avenue.

Masked robber demands cash, but store worker fights back.

Pair let drunk drive them home

Blake Lewis Oettli, 21, was sentenced in the Hamilton District Court on Thursday.

Two people who let a drunk drive them home fared badly. 


Home stretch awaits Hareb

Paige Hareb is looking to make her presence felt in her final two events of the year.

She's been in contention all year, now the Kiwi surfer knows it's time to lock in her qualification to the world tour.

Justice 'not being seen'

A Taranaki lawyer claims his legally blind client's access to justice is under threat because the man can't get his ...

Lawyer argues legally blind client's "access to justice" at risk because of no new glasses.

Living on with a head injury

Riki Hoeata has found success in smoothies after having to move on from rugby.

Former rugby lock tackles healthier life after concussion forces him to move on from the sport he loves most.

Three siblings guilty

Having no money was a factor for Benjamin Hayes, who stole cars and committed burglaries in June and July this year. ...

A unusual court session provided a glimpse into what drives people to turn to crime.


Taking to the dance floor

Anniversary committee chairman Tom Fitzsimons looks through a Manawatū Dancing Club scrapbook.

MEMORY LANE: The Manawatu Dancing Club has been gliding on for 50 years.

Recognition for railcar

The Pahiatua Railcar Society's community award win recognises three decades of work restoring this one-of-a-kind railcar.

Community award honours 30 years of hard work restoring a vintage railcar for public use.

Teachers investigated

One teacher has been struck off and two others are under investigation after behaving inappropriately towards students. ...

One teacher struck off and two others investigated for inappropriate relationships with students.

Law career comes to an end

Peter Coles talks to reporters after Ewen Macdonald is declined parole in 2013.

The curtain is coming down on the legal career of a canny courtroom operator.


WOW tribute to late designer

The Art of New York City created by Martin de Ruyter, Karen Stade and Troy Stade, modelled by Nicole Gibson.

The memory of a young designer who took out the World of WearableArt Awards top prize is being kept alive in a garment at this year's finals.

Death of a gentleman

Ron Brinsdon, pictured in 2005, on his dawn can collection run in Hardy St. He and a friend would flatten the cans and ...

Homeless man Ron Brinsdon died after collapsing in Nelson. Behind the familiar face was a hidden story.

Hansen to give Havili ABs shot?

David Havili has reached a point where his coach feels he is now comfortable in the All Black environment.

Is it time to hand David Havili his debut against Argentina?

Flaws in Sounds murder case video

Ben Smart and Olivia Hope disappeared in the Marlborough Sounds in 1998.

Some things come to mind easily in the Scott Watson case, then it gets murky.


Flaws in Sounds murder case video

Ben Smart and Olivia Hope disappeared in the Marlborough Sounds in 1998.

Some things come to mind easily in the Scott Watson case, then it gets murky - not just because it's decades on.

New boat in the post

Jim and Amanda Baillie are the ninth owners of the Pelorus Mail Boat in 100 years. The new boat will be revealed next ...

For a century, the mail boat has provided a vital link to families cloistered in secluded bays.

Best foot forward for Alzheimers

Barry Brown of Blenheim led last year's memory walk, and will be back with his bagpipes for Alzheimers Marlborough this year.

Blenheim bagpiper Barry Brown will call the tune once again for Alzheimers Marlborough's Memory Walk.

New life on the Kaikōura seabed

Life returns to areas of the Kaikōura Canyon where nothing existsed after the November earthquake. The picture shows a ...

The Kaikōura earthquake caused a violent current that swept away seabed life, but it is coming back.

South Canterbury

Hydro 'dangerous'

Timaru's Hydro Grand Hotel has been assessed as being a dangerous building likely to cause injury or death.

Damning report says Hydro Grand is dangerous, likely to cause injury or death.

Time to spring forward

Butcher Jim Bower's early mornings will be even darker and busier when Daylight Saving kicks in on Sunday.

Dust off the barbecue, it's time for long evenings as Daylight Savings starts.

Gully change approved

An aerial view of Broughs Gully, in the Timaru suburb of Oceanview.

The Brough's Gully site could yield at least 180 sections if the decision survives appeal.

Timaru's next tourism attraction?

In May a High Court Judge ruled the Rangatira be sold to pay off more than $170,000 owed to PrimePort.

Fisherman hopes community will save ship with Hollywood connection from the scrap heap.


Flames beat back rescuers

The fire was in one unit in a block of four.

Neighbours reportedly tried to rescue the occupant of a Dunedin flat where a person died overnight.

Woman rescued, police thank app

A Christchurch woman was found on Ben Lomond, near Queenstown, about 12am on Friday.

A Christchurch woman was rescued from a Queenstown mountain after her husband tracked her location through a phone app.

Eyes to the sky in Alexandra

Neil Sutherland, who lives at the Alexandra Airport at his hanger, will be displaying his home-built plane at the Wings ...

It's not every day planes down the main street of Alexandra.

Budding booze baron busted

Richard Gray in the Dunedin District Court

A Dunedin man says he feels better after he was busted for selling home brew to two teens who later ended up in hospital.


Prendergast wants dialogue before ministerial review

John Prendergast, former chief executive of the Community Trust of Southland.

"An independent set of eyes transparently reviewing and reporting publicly on this matter would be very beneficial ..."

Where is Amber-Lee?

Amber-Lee Cruickshank, pictured age one, went missing on October 17, 1992.

Police travelled to Australia looking for answers about what happened to toddler Amber-Lee Cruickshank 25 years ago.

Fighting for those who can't

Southland Boys's High School student  Malachi Agnew, 12, in front, has organised students at his school to have a mufti ...

When Malachi Agnew is rasing money he's trying to save the lives of his mates.

Ballet etiquette 101

I've seen Romeo and Juliet, I don't need the story narrated to me.

OPINION: I love a trip to the ballet but not when the person behind me can't stop talking.

Ad Feedback