Rebuilding Tongues After Cancer

More than 10-thousand Americans are diagnosed with tongue cancer each year. Surgery to remove the cancerous part of the tongue can save lives, but it leaves some unable to talk or eat. As Robyn Haines reports, one doctor used skin and fat from a patient's arm to re-build her tongue…and her life. Mom Lisa Bourdon-Krause doesn't take anything for granted anymore. A few years ago, Lisa was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Doctors said surgery was her last option, but would also mean removing half of Lisa’s tongue. One of her doctors told her she might not ever talk again. At the time, Lisa’s son was just two. She didn't know if he'd hear his mom's voice again, so she recorded herself. Thanks to Dr. Douglas Chepeha at the University of Michigan Medical School, Lisa never had to give her son those recordings. In a 10-hour surgery, surgeons cut out the cancerous part of Lisa’s tongue. Then, Dr. Chepeha took skin from her own forearm and attached it to her tongue. The result: a tongue that looked and felt much like the real thing. Lisa was able to talk a few days after her surgery. After a couple of weeks, she could eat. Dr. Chepeha says a benefit to this procedure is patients don't have to take anti-rejection drugs because the transplanted skin is their own.