Gertha Demicus finished high school in her hometown in Haiti, but not without so much bullying that she considered quitting.
The hazing by other students centered around her facial deformity from a growing jaw tumor called a multi-cystic ameloblastoma.
By fate and charity, Demicus, now 29, came to Dr. Steven Moriconi while the dental surgeon was volunteering at a clinic in Haiti. That set in motion events that led Demicus to the operating room at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health in Montgomery County on the morning of Dec. 7.
Her journey to the United States, her 11-hour surgery and her ongoing post-op recovery all are being paid for through volunteer efforts of Moriconi and several other hospital surgeons and staff, and the health system.
The lead surgeon for the operation, Dr. Andrew Steinkeler, said Decimus was doing well a week into her recovery. He said this type of amelobastoma has an incidence rate about about "one in a million."
It would have been fatal if it continued to grow unabated.
"It’s a benign tumor but locally aggressive. It continues to grow and grow and would have eventually been a fatal tumor for her," Steinkeler said. "In reality, we did a life saving operation."
He and Moriconi said this type of tumor often progresses further along in poor countries like Haiti.
"As is true of most facial pathology in Haiti, lack of access to care and poverty results in lesions much larger and more damaging than if the patient lived in better conditions," Moriconi said.
Besides Steinkeler and Moriconi, Dr. Mark Kienle, an oral surgeon, also donated his time to take part in the 11-hour surgery. Steinkeler said a nurse, Donna Donahue, also volunteered her time to assist.
Moriconi is chief of oral surgery at Abington Hospital. Steinkeler and Kienle have a practice, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, with offices in Montgomery and Bucks counties, and are attending surgeons at the hospital.
Demicus's recovery will take months and she is staying free-of-charge for a bit longer at Abington, Steinkeler said, adding that she'll likely have to return in a few months for a follow-up and perhaps a year from now for a final bone graft.
The initial surgery, Steinkeler said, involved removing a significant portion of the left side of Demicus's jaw in addition to the tumor. The surgeons gave her a custom-made titanium plate that reconstructed her left-side jaw.
"The initial recovery is the first month or so to get the immediate area healed, then learning to chew," he said.
The charitable efforts was a testament to the good will of the entire hospital community, Steinkeler said.
The hospital said in a statement that Moriconi has volunteered in Haiti yearly since 2010, bringing supplies and equipment on each trip. The doctor spends his time at the Christianville Dental Clinic in Gressier, about 90 minutes north of Port-au-Prince. That's where he first met Demicus.
Demicus is the fourth patient to be brought by Abington Hospital to the United States for treatment. The three previous patients were treated in 2011, 2012 and 2013, the hospital said.