This astounding medical video looks at how doctors rebuilt a tongue for a patient.
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Jennifer Matthews: Steve Merkle is thankful for how his life has turned out. At 23, he got some unexpected news. Steve Merkle: I had a little spot on my tongue, kind of a canker sore type of thing. That's when I got the bad news. Jennifer Matthews: That bad news was tongue cancer. Surgery removed the cancer and a piece of his tongue. Steve Merkle: I was doing pretty good for 13 years, and then it came back, basically in the same spot. Jennifer Matthews: This time, more than half of his tongue was removed. Doctor Bruce Haughey says the tongue is clearly vital for speech. Dr. Bruce Haughey: You can have a sound coming out of your voice box, but without a tongue, it's totally unintelligible." Jennifer Matthews: But it's also critical for survival. Dr. Bruce Haughey: It stops food and liquids going down into the lungs. Jennifer Matthews: Doctor Haughey reconstructs the tongue using tissue from the forearm or thigh. Dr. Bruce Haughey: We set about sort of a series of origami-like folding techniques using two dimensions of tissue to make three dimensions of shape for a tongue-like organ. Jennifer Matthews: The folding technique provides better function. Dr. Bruce Haughey: We aim for producing something that's just like the real thing. Jennifer Matthews: After reconstruction, 84 percent of patients eat normally and no longer need a feeding tube. Speech also improves significantly. Steve Merkle: Dr. Haughey did such a great job that, really, I'm kind of back to normal. I can eat everything and do everything I did before. Jennifer Matthews: Now, after beating cancer twice, Steve says he doesn't take anything for granted. This is Jennifer Matthews reporting.