From left, neurosurgeon Jeffrey Jacob, craniofacial and plastic surgeon Kongkrit Chaiyasate, patient Chidi Tagbo and otolaryngologist Adam Folbe converge at Beaumont, Royal Oak, for a pre-operation office visit.

From left, neurosurgeon Jeffrey Jacob, craniofacial and plastic surgeon Kongkrit Chaiyasate, patient Chidi Tagbo and otolaryngologist Adam Folbe converge at Beaumont, Royal Oak, for a pre-operation office visit.

Photo provided by Robert Ortlieb


Local doctors perform lifesaving surgery on Nigerian student

Student plans to become a surgeon

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 22, 2018

 Chidi Tagbo, right, and his mother, Beckie Tagbo, chat during a postoperative office visit at Beaumont, Royal Oak. A team of three surgeons successfully removed most of a baseball-sized tumor from Chidi’s skull.

Chidi Tagbo, right, and his mother, Beckie Tagbo, chat during a postoperative office visit at Beaumont, Royal Oak. A team of three surgeons successfully removed most of a baseball-sized tumor from Chidi’s skull.

Photo provided by Robert Ortlieb

METRO DETROIT — When 21-year-old Chidi Tagbo, of Enugu, Nigeria, reached out to a Beaumont, Royal Oak, craniofacial surgeon in July, he said he was surprised when he got a reply.

Nigerian doctors had told Tagbo, who had an aggressive, baseball-sized skull tumor threatening brain damage and permanent blindness, to seek medical attention abroad.

Tagbo was born with a rare condition called craniofacial fibrous dysplasia, a bone disorder in which scar tissue develops in place of normal bone tissue, resulting in weak skull and facial bones, according to a Beaumont press release.

When he was 9 years old, Tagbo said, he had an accident and hit his skull.

“When it started healing, after some months, then the signs of the (condition began showing),” he said. “It was pushing my right eye down. I was scared because I’ve never seen anything like that before and I was just 9 years old.”

He said surgeons in Africa told him that highly specialized surgery was too risky to perform, because the tumor was threatening to push on his brain, which could result in permanent brain damage and also oppress his optic muscle, which could lead to blindness.

Beckie Tagbo, Chidi Tagbo’s mother, said the process of finding doctors who would complete the necessary surgery was “very distressing.”

“It’s been years now,” she said. “We have consulted with so many doctors, so many hospitals, done so many scans, and at this point, we were at wit’s end. We didn’t know what else to do.”

Dr. Kongkrit Chaiyasate, a craniofacial and plastic surgeon, said he corresponded with Chidi, who read about another one of Chaiyasate’s patient’s success stories online, to gather more information.

“He sent more documents and CT scans, and I had an expert in 3-D reconstruction extract the data,” Chaiyasate said. “I looked at the data and I thought, ‘This is a serious problem.’ The tumor in that young man was aggressive, but curable if we do it right, so for that reason, we decided to take him.”

In late October, Chidi and his parents embarked on a 21-hour flight into metro Detroit to prepare for Chidi’s Dec. 8 surgery. The three-person surgical team that treated Chidi also included neurosurgeon Jeffrey Jacob and otolaryngologist Adam Folbe. All three donated their time.

“We are experts in this field, and we decided to help him,” Chaiyasate said. “He would have died if we didn’t do anything.”

Working together, he said, the team completed the complicated surgery in approximately 10 hours total — six hours on his part.

The surgeons removed most of the tumor, which in turn improved Chidi’s breathing by opening his airway, alleviated his headaches and restored his concentration, according to Beaumont officials. They replaced half of his skull with a custom, mesh implant, according to the press release.

The donated implant from KLS Martin, Chaiyasate said, usually sells for approximately $15,000-$20,000.

While abroad, Chidi also received word that he had been accepted into the University of Nigeria’s medical school. He plans to become a surgeon.

“When I go back, I’ll start my studies, and to give back, I plan when I finish to also help people with facial reconstruction,” he said. “I feel good. I thank them a lot. They really made time for this surgery, and they did a very good job.”

He and Beckie were scheduled to fly home Jan. 18 after a speedy recovery, according to the press release. Chidi said he was excited to reunite with his older sister and twin brothers and eat Nigerian food. Since his surgery, he said, he has been eating a lot of Jell-O and soup.

“My husband has gone before us, and he tell them (friends and family) the news. Everybody is excited,” Beckie said. “It was a great experience. (The hospital staff) have this family approach to patient care.”

Chaiyasate, who originally hails from Thailand, said the Beaumont surgeons plan to provide Chidi mentorship to achieve his goal.

“It’s a lifelong plan and investment, so in the future, people from Africa don’t need to come here,” he said. “It’s good for humanity.”

Chaiyasate said, as a reconstructive surgeon, his job is to find ways to build back and replace what his patients have lost due to pain or disease.

In a Jan. 17 phone interview with the Royal Oak Review, Chaiyasate said he received a national award — the 2018 Best Microsurgical Case of the Year from the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery — the previous weekend for his work on Tim McGrath, 38, of Sterling Heights — the case that originally caught Chidi’s attention.

In a prior interview with the Royal Oak Review, Chaiyasate said McGrath came to him in bad shape in April 2016 and that “his brain was exposed.” McGrath lost half of his face due to a rare form of cancer in 2015. Chaiyasate grafted skin from elsewhere on McGrath’s body onto his face.

As far as Chidi, Chaiyasate said, “We saved him, so now he can save a thousand more.”

Staff Writer Sherri Kolade contributed to this report.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.