BOISE - The journey to live a normal, pain-free life isn't over yet for Lucas McCulley. A large, facial malformity has been a tremendous burden for the Nampa man emotionally and physically for more than 20 years. However, when the TV show "The Doctors" saw KTVB's story about Lucas, they decided to help. They sent him to the only known surgeon in the U.S. who could operate on Lucas.
"Seeing Lucas's case made me realize that this may be one of the most difficult cases that I've ever done in my career," said Dr. Gregory Levitin.
In all his years as Head and Neck Surgeon at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, Lucas's case would prove to be the most challenging for Dr. Levitin.
"I think Lucas's history says it all," said Levitin. "The last time he was operated on, he almost bled to death and the doctors told him that they couldn't do anything more for him. When I encountered Lucas's malformation in the operating room, I immediately understood what they were talking about," said Levitin.
Levitin discovered a facial nerve interwoven throughout the large malformation, known as a lymphangioma tumor. If the nerve was damaged, Lucas could lose function in his face. Also, there were so many blood vessels inside it.
"Extra blood vessels. Vessels that didn't even have names, that had grown in the malformation," said Levitin. "And it was these types of vessels that one false move could result in significant bleeding and made it extremely challenging."
Levitin worked millimeter by millimeter, centimeter by centimeter.
"There is no rushing this type of procedure," said Levitin.
The surgery would end up taking eight hours, twice as long as expected for Levitin and his team to remove the tumor that had affected Lucas for more than 20 years, as he told KTVB when we first met him in August 2017.
"I'm in pain from the moment I wake up and right until I go to sleep," said Lucas in August.
The tumor was not life-threatening, but extremely painful, affecting Lucas's quality of life, the way he ate and talked, not to mention the stares and bullies.
"My goal is to go out there and show people that you shouldn't be ashamed of who you are," said McCulley. "I'm taking the opportunity these people are giving me to come out and try to inspire people that don't like themselves or are scared of themselves to go out and be, you know, I'm taking a chance to show people be yourself and show strength and have a smile and just be you and happy and love yourself the way you are."
Lucas had undergone several attempts in the past to remove the tumor, but was unsuccessful. He was told there were no doctors comfortable ore experienced enough to operate. Lucas even tried injecting chemicals into the tumor to slow its growth progression.
With no insurance, a GoFundMe page has helped raise more than $100,000. And when Lucas appeared on "The Doctors" in September, the show surprised him with news of Dr. Levitin offering to take on the case. Levitin specializes in vascular birthmarks.
"But my specific interest dates back to several years ago when my daughter was born with a vascular birthmark and we couldn't find any specialists to treat her," said Levitin. "So I could relate maybe Lucas was born in a state with maybe plenty of plastic surgeons, but none that may have the experience to treat his condition."
Levitin says while operating, he thought about everything Lucas has endured over the years.
"When I met Lucas, I knew instantly from his appearance, the type of life he's been leading and certainly from talking with him further, this is someone who has so much to offer but yet for all of his life has not really been given a chance," said Levitin.
The surgery would prove to be successful.
"We were able to remove at least 80, maybe 85 percent of the malformation," said Levitin. "The entire portion that was hanging off the side of his face has been completely removed."
Lucas hasn't revealed how he looks after surgery. He is still very much swollen and will be for a couple of months.
But the life Lucas dreamed of is beginning to take shape as he continues to inspire us all.
"Thank you to everybody, you can't really say enough words because everyone has helped me get to where I am right now," said Lucas.
"I think it's very important for people to realize that we're all different and whether some of us wear our marks on the inside, some of us wear our marks on the outside, it's really something that we need to appreciate that we're all different," said Levitin.
In the coming months, Lucas will undergo the next phase of reconstruction to refine the contour and symmetry of his appearance.
Lucas's GoFundMe page is up to roughly $112,000. His goal is $150,000. Lucas says he will be forever grateful to those who've helped him in his journey.
New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai and Dr. Levitin worked to make the surgery as affordable as possible for Lucas. However, there are more expenses ahead, including additional surgeries, travel and lodging, and time off from work.