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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In the 7 months since we last spoke to Lessya Kotelevskaya, surgeons have implanted a tissue expander into her jawbone to build more skin around her face.
The small bandage and scarf around the 30 year old's neck cover the scars and damage from her misdiagnosis of terminal cancer in Kazakhstan.
"She's not hiding herself here. She goes outside and doesn't have that sheltered mind," said Lessya's long-lost cousin Oleg, who found her homeless and near death living with her 5 year old son last year.
He rescued them and turned to U of L physicians to help fix the hole in Lessya's face.
"What she lost in this 11 years she wants to get it back," Oleg translated for a smiling Lessya.
In the time she's been in the States, Lessya has learned to drive and has started studying English. She even experienced her first American Christmas.
But the biggest hurdle lies ahead. Monday, Lessya is set to undergo her final facial reconstruction surgery.
"The entire area and the lining of the mouth needs to be removed," said Dr. Jarrod Little, who will perform the 24 hour operation. The operation requires Dr. Little to rebuild Lessya's jaw and part of her face with a bone, vessels and skin from her leg. "I know it doesn't make sense, but it works."
"She said she believes he has gold hands and could do anything to make her life better," Oleg translated for Lessya. For Lessya, this 11 year journey shrouded in shame and sadness will end with joy and peace. 'She's feels like she's not hopeless anymore and she can be happy and she can be like everybody else.