Sarah Tassi waited a long time to see her son, Preston Tassi, smile. Five years to be exact.
At just 3 days old, Preston was diagnosed with Moebius syndrome, a type of congenital facial paralysis that results in underdeveloped facial nerves. The condition left the boy unable to smile, eat properly, and also resulted in vision and speech issues. He was also born with a deformed right hand.
“There was sadness, of course,” Sarah tells PEOPLE of the moments she and her husband, Jason, learned of the diagnosis. “When you’re a new mom, you want to see your baby smile.”
“Drinking from a bottle was difficult for him because he couldn’t make his mouth come to the bottle. So we figured out a way to hold the bottle with our hands while pushing his cheeks in a little bit to help him eat. You just do what you gotta do and make it work.”
As he grew, Preston learned to push up the corners of his mouth with his hands to “smile”, but was never able to do so on his own — until this year.
In February, Preston underwent the final end of a two-part facial animation surgery in which surgeons at St. Louis Children’s Hospital removed nerve muscles from his inner thigh and inserted them into his cheeks.
“It’s scary having your little one under anesthesia for 10 hours or more,” Sarah says, noting that Preston underwent the first portion of the surgery last August. “There were a lot of emotions.”
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SOURCE: PEOPLE, Char Adams