Hillside boy returns to school as hero after surgery

Photos Courtesy of Northwell Studios Photography
Simao Meco poses with comic book hero ‘The Flash’ at a press conference to discuss his facial reconstructive surgery and return to school in Hillside.

HILLSIDE, NJ — After surgery to move his eyes closer together and reshape his nose, Hillside resident Simao Meco was greeted by his favorite superhero, The Flash, at the hospital.
Since then, the third-grader has turned into a superhero of sorts for other children. Other boys and girls about to undergo similar surgeries have receive word about his heartwarming tale and seem to be drawing strength and courage from it, Simao’s mother said.

“The feedback in one way or another, helping kids in different situations, has been great,” Lisa Meco said in a March 3 phone interview. “For example, we were told that there was a kid who was very nervous about going through a surgery and, after seeing Simao on TV and seeing Simao’s recovery, the kid was saying he felt more comfortable about going into surgery.
“And then they called us from Portugal. He did an interview with a reporter from Portugal because there was a kid who was having a surgery. They asked if he could give his testimony of what he went through and how it was to the parents and child in Portugal so it could help them.”

Simao, 9, became a media sensation when several New York-area television stations and newspapers covered his press conference at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens, N.Y., on Feb. 7. Surgeons there performed a complex, six-hour surgery that corrected the rare Tessier craniofacial clefts that had impaired his vision and breathing since birth.
For the surgery, Drs. James Bradley and Mark Mittler worked together.

“My part of this was to provide Dr. Bradley with access to the skull,” Mittler, co-chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Cohen, said in a press release from Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Feb. 7. “Once we were able to achieve access, Dr. Bradley was able to take the necessary steps to realign Simao’s face.”

According to the press release, as soon as he saw Simao, Bradley knew he would have to perform the facial bipartition surgery. Bradley split Simao’s face in half vertically, and then brought both sides back together with proper realignment. During the surgery, performed pro-bono at Cohen on Jan. 8, Bradley repositioned Simao’s eye to point in the proper direction, adjusted the sinus cavities and modified the structure of his nose.

At the press conference, Simao was all smiles, showing off his new face and posing with The Flash.
“I feel better, I see better,” Simao said at the press conference. “I’m good.”

Photos Courtesy of Northwell Studios Photography
Simao returned to elementary school in Hillside in February after having facial reconstructive surgery required due to a birth defect.

His mom said she has seen a big difference in Simao’s confidence since the surgery. For starters, he’s not hesitant to ride the bus, where he would sometimes encounter bullies. He’s becoming a little more independent, too.

“He, actually by himself — I didn’t have to be there with him — went to his first kids birthday party,” she said. “We just dropped him off because we knew the parents, and he was excited to be there by himself when usually he would want his sister or me or someone from the family there. This time, he was fine just by himself.”