BRAVE Katie Meehan was the belle of the ball – after a lifetime of gruelling operations to give her a glowing smile.
The 16-year-old was pretty in pink as she attended St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive School’s leavers’ prom at the Hilton Hotel in Gateshead.
The teenager had a difficult start to life after being born with cystic hygroma, where a fluid forms a mass on the head and neck, leaving her with a mishapen face and an enlarged tongue.
But after years of surgery and determination, Katie’s mum, Dawn McIntyre, 49, couldn’t have been more proud as she waved her daughter off on Friday.
She said: “Katie looked absolutely beautiful, it was such a proud moment for the family and I. When you look back to how she was when she was a little baby, to now, the transformation is amazing. She just looked stunning. She’s come such a long way.”
Katie, from Ely Way in Fellgate, Jarrow, first hit the headlines in 2000 when the Gazette launched an appeal to raise cash for the youngster’s first operation to reduce the swelling in her mouth and tongue caused by cysts.
Miss McIntyre was told her daughter might never talk, but more than £60,000 was raised by kindhearted readers, and Professor Ian Jackson agreed to carry out the surgery which would change her life.
She had the first operation in spring 2000 at Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital in London. Her left cheek and tongue were cut open during the five-hour surgery, and cysts were removed.
In spring 2001 she had her second at the Portland Hospital in London, and two years later, she had a third operation.
Although her surgeon has now retired, Katie still needs one more operation to her tongue and the lower inside of her mouth.
Dawn said: “We’re not dashing in to it. Katie is a happy and confident girl, so there’s no rush. We’re going to concentrate on her education first, because this time we will be able to get surgery on the NHS, and while that’s great, we will have to start at the beginning with scans, as the NHS doesn’t have any medical records.
We will always be grateful to the community for all of their help over the years, and we now feel like they are part of our family because so many people ask how she’s doing.”
Katie, who is waiting for her GCSE results, will be staying on into St Joseph’s sixth form, where she will study A-levels in English language, photography, business studies, and philosophy and ethics.
She said: “The prom was fantastic, it was great to see all my friends dressed up and looking lovely. We had a delicious three-course meal too. I couldn’t eat all of it, but I had a good go.
“I have one GCSE exam left, and then I’ll just have to wait for the results. Fingers crossed, I’ll get good ones.”