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Health Beat: Smile surgery: Turn that frown upside down

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: May 15 2014 01:22:26 PM CDT
Updated On: May 15 2014 04:56:05 PM CDT

A smile can brighten someone's day. It's a way to greet each other and it makes us feel good, but what if you couldn’t smile?

DURHAM, N.C. -

Grinning from ear to ear, your smile can light up a room, connecting you to others.

It's an ability Abbie Honeycutt lost at age six. She had a brain tumor removed and lost function of her facial nerve.

"I didn't smile a whole lot," Honeycutt said.

But thanks to a technique known as facial reanimation, Dr. Jeffrey Marcus was able to give Honeycutt her smile back.

"It's giving people the ability to interact just like any other person, to smile like any other person," said Marcus, plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Duke University Medical Center.

Doctors can connect a nerve graft from the normal side of the face to the paralyzed side, or surgeons can use the nerve responsible for chewing to give you your grin back.

"It gives you a very, very strong kind of contraction for a smile," Marcus said.

Also on the horizon is a robotic muscle.

"It is where this tiny little contraction device, which is like a synthetic muscle, is implanted," Marcus said.

"Before I just wouldn't talk," Honeycutt said.

Now, she is beaming.

"Now, I am confident that I can smile," Honeycutt said.

"It does keep getting stronger and so even where we are today isn’t going to be the end cause. It will continue to get a little bit better," Marcus explained.

"Smile surgery" isn't just about making a person look better. Facial paralysis also impacts a person's ability to feed themselves and speak.

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