Doctor makes facial prosthetics for cancer survivors

A Long Island doctor is helping cancer survivors find the confidence to face the world. She uses technology to make some patients feel whole again.

Several patients told Fox 5 that they survived cancer but at a very high cost. Doctors had to remove Gary Brown's nose. Allen Ross lost his right ear. Michael Murphy had the entire roof of his mouth removed. But at first glance, and for many even after close inspection, you'd never know.

"What I do is I return patients to a productive life after head and neck cancer surgery or trauma," Dr. Denise VeyVoda, a maxillofacial prosthodontist, said.

In Oyster Bay, Long Island, patients said that Dr. VeyVoda is changing lives -- physically and mentally. She is able to digitally make prosthetic facial features. She scans a patient's head and then uses a 3D system to sculpt facial structures made of silicone.

"This comes out and without this, obviously you can hear my speech difference," Murphy said, pulling out his mouth prosthesis. "When I eat or drink, water comes out through my nose and my speech obviously a little bit different but once it's back in I'm back to my old self."

"At the beginning, it started as a glue-on version," Ross said. "Since then we have put in titanium implants and we are able to use magnets in order to attach the prosthesis to the titanium implants that are in my ears."

The patients said their health insurance covers the majority of the process. The most one of them has paid out of pocket is about $2,000.

Creating a personalized prosthetic facial structure takes her about three weeks, Dr. VeyVoda said.

"Plastic surgeons wouldn't do this. They don't deal with materials," she said. "They do surgery. They will take skin and bone and rotate it into the defect. I do this because I am trained in dental materials and dental head and neck anatomy. I sculpt it, I process it, and I tint it. I do it all."

Dr. VeyVoda said that every year or two she comes up with a new way to improve the prosthetics, based on technology advancements. So if you think these prosthetics look realistic now, she said just wait and see.