As the pandemic has raged on, we have learned more and more about what side effects can occur from severe COVID-19 infection. Some of these are common in patients with severe disease, and some are much more rare. One of the more rare occurrences is called macroglossia.
Macroglossia is the swelling of the tongue to an extremely large size. This influence patient’s ability to eat, talk, and breathe.
This is the story of Anthony Jones, one of the patients who has lived with this side effect.
Anthony Jones had COVID-19 so severely that he required intubation. He was hospitalized for over a month. But after returning home from the hospital, a new symptom came upon him.
He noticed his tongue was extremely swollen. He couldn’t speak, and he couldn’t eat. The family reached out to see a specialist, which is when they first heard the name of the rare condition.
The outlook didn’t look good. Doctors said that they could perform oral surgery but they weren’t sure that he would ever talk or eat again.
His mother simply wouldn’t accept that for an answer.
Anthony’s mother did her research and found that a study published in 2018 showed that a doctor at UT Health had completed successful surgery on macroglossia patients. His name was James Melville.
Melville received an email from Anthony’s mother but almost didn’t open it. He thought it must be junk mail. Thankfully, something made him click on the email. But even after reading it he was still skeptical, just due to the amount of junk mail he receives. He asked for a picture of the patient just to be sure, and sure enough, there was no prank insight.
Melville replied right away, assuring the family that he could help their son.
Anthony’s tongue was classified as very massive. The doctor explained that it happened because his lymph nodes were draining fluids into his tongue.
Due to the rarity of Anthony’s presentation, Melville had only performed two other surgeries on tongues that size. However, both patients did extremely well and had positive outcomes.
The entire surgery takes just 45 minutes and involves removing part of the tongue while preserving all of the nerves. This method allows the patient to maintain all feeling in their tongue, be able to speak normally, and have all of their taste return to normal. Since the tongue is mostly muscle (95%), it does heal quickly.
Just one week after the procedure, Anthony could talk again. He was able to eat soft foods and drink fluids. His tracheotomy was closed. Most importantly, he was smiling again. Anthony was able to experience a happy Thanksgiving dinner with his family and move on with his life.
By being brave enough to share his story, now another patient affected by the same rare condition has reached out to Melville and will be treated by the oral surgeon soon.
You can read more about this condition and Anthony’s story here.