HOUSTON — At 15 years old, Kami Wooten started her year in the hospital. Last December, she noticed swelling in her gums. She soon learned it was a rare tumor.

Although benign, the tumor had grown to cover almost half of her face.

“She didn’t want to take pictures, she didn’t want to smile. She barely wanted to talk,” said Shawna Wooten.

Doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital operated in April.

“The problem is it’s like putting a new skyscraper in Downtown Houston. This is a critical area. There are a lot of critical structures. When these tumors come up, they’re really devastating for families,” said Dr. Daniel Chelius, Pediatric Otolaryngologist with Texas Children’s Hospital.

Surgeons removed the mass, reconstructing the teen’s cheek with plates and screws.

“We put a piece of living tissue inside the mouth to seal off the nose from the mouth from the sinus,” said Dr. Ed Buchanan, Chief of Plastic Surgery.

Wooten’s mom says faith and family helped them through the difficult journey.

And spending time at the hospital actually helped.

“I mean, I want to do something in the medical field, so I was excited to see what they do and experience it,” said Kami.

Seeing the 15-year-old happy again brought her mom to tears Wednesday

In December, Kami will undergo her second surgery. Doctors will take bone from the teen’s leg and put it in her mouth to allow for dental implants.