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Mass. Eye and Ear patient Tina DeLullo, on her farm in Hampden, Mass.

A Fearless Face

Patient Stories

A tailored approach to managing her facial paralysis brought back Mass. Eye and Ear patient Tina DeLullo’s confidence in the classroom

It has always been vitally important for middle school English teacher Tina DeLullo to communicate effectively — through words and facial expression — in the classroom.

When she woke up one day with facial paralysis, she immediately struggled to speak clearly, as the sudden weakness in the muscles of the left side of her face set in.

“When you are a teacher, you are talking almost all day,” said Tina. “Speaking and properly articulating your words is important, and my facial paralysis affected my ability to do that.”

More than a doctor’s visit

A resident of Hampden in Western Massachusetts, Tina made an appointment to see Dr. Tessa Hadlock, Director of the Facial Nerve Center of Mass. Eye and Ear, where she came under the care of a unique team of specialists exclusively dedicated to the treatment of facial weakness.

“At my first appointment with Dr. Hadlock, she immediately began documenting my progress by taking photographs, mapping out my face and asking questions,” said Tina. “That is when I knew she was with me for the long-haul.”

Dr. Hadlock recommended that Tina begin physical therapy right away, and she later recommended Botox® injections to improve her facial function.

The combination of individualized facial nerve physical therapy and Botox® injections can help patients regain control over their facial movements. The physical therapy helps with facial tightness and improves facial expression while teaching patients how to better control their facial movements through specific massages, relaxation strategies and focused movement exercises.

Because Tina had some synkinesis (involuntary facial movements resulting from the nerve damage caused by the paralysis), the Botox® injections are used to relax the muscles and improve facial symmetry.

“Before I started my treatment, I didn’t realize how much the tightness in my face actually hurt,” said Tina. “Actually doing the exercises at therapy made me realize how tender everything was and how much I needed the treatment.”

Before and after photo of woman with facial paralysis
Tina DeLullo, before and after treatment for facial paralysis.

“The old me coming back”

After nearly six months of Botox® injections and physical therapy, Tina has seen significant improvements.

The pulling and tightness of her face has lessened, her smile has improved and unwanted bulges and dimples have disappeared. Her left eye, which had developed synkinesis and would close up when she puckered or smiled, is now more controlled and balanced with the unaffected side. She also has a much easier time speaking.

With every improvement, she celebrates alongside her care team in the Facial Nerve Center.

“I just know that everyone there is rooting for me,” said Tina. “Surrounding myself with that level of support has been so beneficial, and it’s really special now that I get to see some of the old me coming back.”

For more information on facial paralysis care at Mass. Eye and Ear, please visit the Facial Nerve Center website.

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