Warning: This article includes content some readers may find disturbing
A man from Sheffield in the United Kingdom who hadn’t visited a dentist for 27 years has had to have 90 percent of his jaw removed—leaving him unable to talk, eat, or drink—after it was revealed that he had a tumor the size of a fist.
In August 2019, Darren Wilkinson, 51, who was so afraid to visit a dentist, was persuaded by his wife, Mel, 53, to go for a routine checkup following some toothache. “The dentist did an X-ray and said she’d ‘never seen anything like it before,’” Darren shared, according to Bone Cancer Research Trust.
The X-ray showed “a massive shadow, a black hole in the middle of his face,” Mel told Caters News Agency.
A few months after on Dec. 19, 2019, Darren was referred to as a nonurgent case to the Charles Clifford Dental Hospital for a biopsy—a procedure to take a small sample of tissue for analysis.
“Christmas was hell because we were told it could have been a tumor but we knew from the X-ray it was the size of a fist,” Mel said.
After undergoing two biopsies in December and January, on Jan. 30, a full diagnosis revealed that the support worker had a “large, locally aggressive tumor” called ameloblastoma that needed to be removed as soon as possible.
Ameloblastoma is a rare benign bone tumor that begins in the jaw often near the wisdom teeth or molars, according to WebMD. Although it is not cancerous, if it goes untreated, it can start to grow in other areas and become malignant.
Mel recalls that learning of the diagnosis “was absolutely horrific.” She told Caters News Agency: “It’s so rare, we were told the odds of him getting it is one in five million.”
However, Darren revealed that he was able to get through the diagnosis by joining an ameloblastoma Facebook group, from which he started his own blog on Facebook called “Humour with a Tumour.” Additionally, he also admitted that he contacted some people who have had to face the same thing as him and their advice was priceless, according to Bone Cancer Research Trust.
During the period of time before Darren’s major surgery, Mel told Caters News Agency: “He wasn’t allowed to eat anything solid because his jaw was so thin in places it would just fracture.”
Darren was supposed to undergo surgery on March 20 to remove his jaw and to insert titanium plates; however, due to Covid-19, the surgery was delayed to April.
Sadly, a week after the surgery, Darren developed sepsis. According to Mayo Clinic, sepsis is potentially life-threatening and is caused by the body’s response to an infection. It can also trigger changes that can damage multiple organ systems.
“I dropped him off at the hospital and drove away—it was the longest, most desolate day of my life,” Mel told Caters News Agency. “He was so ill, he said he could ‘feel every organ in his body shutting down.’”
Darren had emergency surgery and six surgeries afterward due to complications and infections.
“Now when I look inside his mouth I can clearly see the exposed metal plates, wires and the dead bone,” Mel said.
Currently, Darren is unable to talk, eat, or drink. Mel shared that his tongue has swollen so much that he can barely even breathe.
Darren, who has put enormous effort into raising awareness of little-known tumors amid his ordeal, has also been worried about how the entire surgery would change his appearance; and according to Mel, he now feels like a “big drooling baby.”
The plan for Darren, who is currently under recovery, is that he will get a transplant from his lower leg bones to try to rebuild his jaw.
As it’s highly unlikely that Darren will get back to work any time soon, a GoFundMe page has been organized to raise funds for the family’s living costs and further treatments.
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