Ryan Coburn wants to give his father a big gift on Father’s Day - a little smile.
It won’t be much of a smile. But it will be a happy milestone for a 12-year-old boy who has never been able to flash a grin.
Ryan was born with Moebius syndrome, a rare neurological disorder causing eye muscle and facial paralysis that affects only about 1,000 Americans.
He lacks the fully developed nerves that allow other people to smile, laugh or frown. In some severe cases, the syndrome may deform the tongue, jaws and even limbs.
For Ryan, it’s meant a stoic expression has masked his emotions.
“When he laughs, he has the twinkle in his eyes,” said his mother, Patti Coburn. “When he cries, you see the tears.”
He and his family just returned from Toronto, where specialist Dr. Ronald Zuker transplanted muscle tissue from his right leg to the right side of his face.
Once it heals a little more, Ryan should be able to crack his first smile - even if it is on only half of his face.
In late summer or early fall, Zuker will perform the same procedure on the left side and again, if everything goes well, Ryan’s smile should finally spread from ear to ear.
Although only halfway through the process, Patti Coburn and her husband, Hal, have reason to be optimistic. While the Coburns and their four other children were with Ryan during his stay at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, they met a little girl from Edmonton who has the same affliction.
She had gone through the same surgery several weeks earlier, and as she came back into the hospital for a follow-up visit, she smiled at them.
“It was very encouraging to see this little girl smile at us” just five weeks after her surgery, Patti Coburn said, expressing full faith in Zuker’s ability.
After three days, Ryan had had his fill of recovery and hospital beds and was telling his parents, “Get me out of here.”
Soon he was rolling up and down the hospital hallways in a wheelchair, and a few days later the family was back in Idaho.
Now, Ryan is at the family’s mountaintop home at Terrace Lakes recovering. His rare ailment hasn’t kept him from doing things, although the surgery is slowing down the usually active six-grader.
“It doesn’t keep him from being good at what he tries,” his mother said.
Concern that an accident would undermine the benefits from the surgery has kept Ryan from playing with either his softball or baseball team this spring. Motorcycle riding, basketball and rodeo are also off-limits for a while, too.
But he did get permission to play golf at the local course, a game he’s taken up with a passion.
“And fishing,” added Ryan, who usually doesn’t have much to say.
Just before the surgery, Ryan caught his first fish, an 8-inch trout.