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First Thanksgiving with an unlocked jaw for New Jersey teen

Nah’zion Priester and his grandmother, Dorothy, discuss plans for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Nah’zion Priester and his grandmother, Dorothy, discuss plans for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Multiple surgeries at Staten Island University Hospital freed Nah’zion Priester's jaw, allowing him to eat normally again


After spending half his life force-feeding himself with lockjaw, a 15-year-old New Jersey teenager is celebrating his first normal Thanksgiving meal, after doctors at Staten Island University Hospital performed multiple surgeries to free his jaw.

When Nah’zion Priester was 8-years-old, his jaw was broken in a car accident, which left him needing surgery to repair the injury.

Soon after, due to lack of rehabilitation, Nah’zion’s jaw fused and he was once again unable to open his mouth. Normally, the mouth opens to around 35-55 millimeters, in Nah’zion’s case, he could only open it the width of a finger – and even that was a struggle.

“It was a really dark time in my life when I was younger,” Nah’zion said.

“I was only able to eat solid foods by breaking it up into little pieces and forcing it into my mouth,” he said. “As a student, I wouldn’t want to eat around others at school, it was embarrassing since others would notice and question why I eat like that.”

Frustrated with his situation in his teen years, Nah’zion told his mother and grandma the situation, and they immediately brought him to .

Dr. Hoffman, director of Service and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery of Dentistry, is nationally recognized for performing these specialized procedures. Along with his associates, , attending in Dentistry,  associate chairman of Radiology-Neuroradiology, and  vascular surgeon in Surgery, they took on the lengthy task of freeing Nah’zion’s jaw.

The 3D key to unlocking the jaw

“You can get in to real trouble really quick with this type of surgery,” Dr. Hoffman explained. “There are systems of blood vessels in the area we needed to isolate and navigate to even attempt this surgery.”

Dr. Hoffman’s team performed a CT (CAT scan) arterial gram to map out the blood vessels in the jaw and put them in to a 3D printed model of Nah’zion’s skull.

“There were several obstacles to overcome for operating on a frozen joint — especially since it had quite a bit of bone growing over it. You worry about bleeding, nerve damage, and the location of the surgery — since it is at the base of the brain,” explained Dr. Hoffman.

The vascular team was able to embolize the blood vessels in the jaw to prevent hemorrhaging and allowed Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Lam to work to free the jaw and install custom made temporomandibular joint replacement.

“To have this type of outcome, you need the technology and the talent,” he said.

The hospital was able to provide Dr. Hoffman with the necessary tools, the SONOPET provides the ability to dissect the bone without causing injury to the blood vessels.

After four surgeries, Nah’zion can now open his mouth to a normal range and excited to be back to normal, “I can now eat food with a fork and spoon, brush my teeth in the back, stick out my tongue and feel confident about my smile.”

The doctors reinforced the important of exercising the jaw muscles to help strengthen and widen to average size — that of a young growing boy — as well as a mouth piece.

“Nah’zion followed through and really exercised his jaw this time, nothing was going to stop him,” Dr. Hoffman expressed happily.

Today, Nah’zion is thrilled to once again enjoy a normal life and the first Thanksgiving with his family where he can eat normally.

Nah’zion expressed his gratitude to the doctors, “I am very thankful for what they did for me, without them, my life would be much different.”