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PLEASE GIVE ME A NEW FACE FOR MY WEDDING DAY!; Student Mark Crank has already had 60 operations on his disfigured face - but the next could be the one to change his life for ever, as SHARON COLLINS reports...

Mark Crank doesn't expect miracles - but he is praying that surgeons can rebuild his swollen and disfigured face so that he can get on with his life.

A third of his skull has been eaten away by small, virulent tumours, a condition which he hopes can finally be halted by one more date with a surgeon.

With his wedding to Kirsty Millwain set for late this year, Mark wants to get the operation out of the way so he can get on with his life.

"I know that I will never be perfect but I don't want my face to get any worse," said Mark, 27.

"I don't think you can ever come to terms with looking like this, even though I could quite happily live exactly as I am. But there's nothing to say that my condition won't deteriorate."

Mark's top jawbone and eye socket bone on the right side of his face have disappeared over the years because of a condition called neurofibromatosis.

Although it is usually hereditary, doctors told Mark - a student in ancient history at Lampeter University in Dyfed, Wales - that his condition was caused by a spontaneous rogue gene.

Surgeons are now planning to use acrylic to give his face some shape and reduce the swelling. Andrew Bachelor, a reconstructive surgeon at St James's Hospital in Leeds, and neurosurgeon Jerry Towns of Wakefield's Pinderfields Hospital have been running tests to see what they can do for Mark.

He may have a long sheet of muscle taken from his back so the living tissue can be used to hold the new acrylic skull bones in position.

Over the years the many tumours in his head - some benign, others malignant - have eaten away the skull, leaving a four-inch hole in the region of his temple and cheek bone. The fluid-filled sac protecting his brain has become dislodged through the hole and into his cheek region.

"The most important thing is to stop the swelling getting any bigger," said Mark. "At the moment it is like a balloon on a tap with fluid dripping slowly into it. There is no bone structure to hold the face in shape.

"As the bag stretches into the hole my body makes more fluid to fill it."

Mark's mother Carol, from Northwich, Cheshire, noticed his right eye was constantly weeping when he was just over a year old.

As the condition deteriorated he went on to have 20 operations at London's Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.

As a teenager Mark was so self-conscious about his looks that he refused to take off a pressure bandage - worn on his face after one operation - for seven years until he was 22.

"I had a major operation then which improved the shape of my face and I was able to wear my glasses once more," he said.

Mark met Kirsty, a 21-year-old former geography student, at university. She says his looks have never bothered her.

Kirsty, who is a pastoral assistant to the university chaplain, said: "Mark's face is not a problem in our relationship. It really doesn't bother me. But I hope the surgery is a success for the sake of his health."

Mark agreed. "When we first started going out it didn't even crop up in conversation for a while," he said.

"Then I brought the subject up and gave Kirsty a copy of an article I had written for a disability magazine about disfigurement."

Mark wants to have the operation and complete his studies before settling down with Kirsty.

He said: "This surgery is very important from a preventative point of view. It could stabilise the condition and secure my future.

"To look better would simply be a bonus."
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Collins, Sharon
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 23, 1997
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