Medical marvels 31 videos

Elisa Relyea is a 42-year-old mum of two who loves her family life like any other mum. Except she can’t show it. She was born without the ability to smile.

The muscles in her face simply cannot do it due to a lack of muscle tone, which leaves her expression perpetually blank, regardless of whatever emotion she’s feeling.

‘Most mothers would get excited when their child would smile or just light up, but my mother never had that because I had a very blank look on my face,’ says Elisa.

As a child she often faced difficulties with the other kids who teased her because she could not smile. After a particularly bad day at school, Elisa’s mother decided that it was time to see the doctor.

They were told that Elisa was suffering from either Moebius syndrome or a form of congenital facial paralysis which had frozen her face into a single expression.

At 17 Elisa decided to have some corrective surgery at Whitworth University Hospital in Long Island. Surgeons inverted her temporal muscle and connected it to her ‘chewing muscles’.

As she demonstrates in the video above, Elisa can now break a smile by biting down on her jaw.

‘It may not be as natural,’ she explains, ‘but it is probably as close as they can get.’

The doctors also corrected her face’s natural droop, by tightening the area around her eyes, and adding weights to her eyelids so she could fully close them.

By the time she and her hubby Tim wanted to start a family, Elisa knew there was a chance that their baby could be born like her. Especially as her father, brother and sister also suffered from the condition.

Their son Caleb, 3, was born with the same defect as his mother, but this hasn’t stopped the Relyeas from being a happy family.

They always read bedtime stories together, and are confident that they will be able to live a normal life.

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