SALT LAKE CITY -- Maurice Simpson has great enthusiasm for life, despite his challenges with huge facial tumors. He recently underwent what turned out to be lifesaving surgery and was featured in a recent Discovery Channel documentary.
Whether hitting the highway on his motorcycle or pumping iron at the gym, Simpson does it with confidence. But it wasn't always that way.
"They called me Elephant Man, One-eyed Willie…" he said.
Neurofibromatosis is a rare genetic disorder. Benign tumors began disfiguring his face in early childhood. Despite numerous surgeries, the growths eventually took over the right side, blinding that eye. At age 15, he decided he wanted no more operations.
"I decided that I had to make the best out of my situation, and I was gonna be proud of the way I was," he said.
Last year, a man noticed Maurice at work and offered to pay for cosmetic surgery.
Simpson said, "My anonymous donor, I call him my guardian angel, I mean, he's just a great guy. Whenever I think about it, I get kind of choked up because I don't know why he would do something like that, you know."
Simpson's story is the focus of a recent documentary on TLC, "My Brand New Face."
Huntsman Cancer Institute doctors and nurses examined him then performed an MRI. That's when making Maurice look better turned into saving his life. The tumor had become so massive, his brain was sinking into it. One small bump to the head could have killed him.
After 12 hours in surgery, Simpson had lost a great deal of blood, but Dr. Jason Hunt and his team successfully removed the tumor. The cosmetic part was put on hold for six months.
Five months ago, Simpson's wife Charity gave birth to the youngest of his five children. Finally came that opportunity to change his face.
It took the surgical team five hours.
"We did identify things that are potentially life-threatening that needed to be repaired. And then, in addition to that, I think we, I think we have improved the appearance of his face," Dr. Hunt said. "One of the things he tells me is that now his motorcycle helmet will fit better so, I hope that encourages him to wear it all the time."
After weeks of recovery, he is happy with the results.
"It looks a lot better, and it's given me a new-found confidence," Simpson said.
He says he really loves being out in public and feels that telling his story will actually help other people.
"The one message I have would be, don't judge a book by its cover. It's not what's on the outside but what's on the inside. And take the time to get to know someone who looks different," Simpson said.
He calls it a message of hope, believing he is here to live and learn and love, just like everyone else.
Simpson has one more surgery before the end of the year. Dr. Hunt will reconstruct part of his mouth so that he can eat and drink more easily.