Tony Gwynn Standing, Laughing After Surgery

Doctors 'guardedly optimistic' that Tony Gwynn will retain all use of his facial nerves after the surgery

By Lauren Steussy, R. Stickney and Paul Krueger
|  Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012  |  Updated 8:54 PM PDT
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San Diego Stars: Then and Now

Hayne Palmour IV/North County Times

Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn is hopeful he'll retain use of his facial nerves after the surgery.

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Tony Gwynn Standing, Laughing After Surgery

Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn is hopeful he'll retain use of his facial nerves after the surgery.

Tony Gwynn Undergoes Cancer Surgery

Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn is undergoing surgery to remove a new cancerous tumor inside his right cheek.
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Padres Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn was laughing and standing up after a surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his mouth, a friend close to the family said.

Gwynn underwent surgery Wednesday to remove the tumor inside his right cheek. They grafted a nerve from his shoulder to replaces the nerve damaged by the tumor.

The surgery went very well, said Mark Martinez, Aztec Assistant Baseball Coach and friend of Gwynn's.

"Of course, he's a little sore," Martinez said. "But who wouldn't be 14 hours of surgery? He looks great, though, he's in great spirits."

"We even got him to laugh a little bit, and he said 'don't make me laugh because it hurts,'" Martinez added.

After the surgery, doctors said they were "guardedly optimistic" that Gwynn will be able to retain the use of the right side of his face, according to a UCSD spokesperson.

However, it may take about a year before the results become apparent. If the graft is not successful, the damage may be permanent.

The former San Diego Padres, now San Diego State University's baseball coach, previously had a malignant growth removed from the same spot in August 2010.

A University of California San Diego spokesperson confirmed Gwynn had surgery done at Thornton Hospital.

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Gwynn announced he had cancer in October 2010 and he said he was concerned that it could be linked to his career-long practice of using chewing tobacco.

The cancer was diagnosed after Gwynn had a third round of surgery since 1997 to remove a tumor on the Gwynnid gland. The previous procedures found no malignancies. 

A nerve transplant like the one doctors performed on Gwynn Wednesday is a slow and imperfect process done under a microscope, said head and neck surgeon Paul Bernstein.

"When you look at it under the microscope, [the nerve] is not just one solid structure," Bernstein said. "There's different layers of the nerve, so you want to be sure you sew the different layers of the nerve together in the right orientation and the right manner so that it allows the nerve to heal properly."

Bernstein said there is a clear connection between chewing tobacco and mouth cancer.

Recently, Gywnn has spoken out against chewing tobacco -- to young baseball players in particular.

"I'm very happy to hear that Tony Gwynn has come out and told kids not to start into this horrible habit of using chewing tobacco," Bernstein said. "It's a serious habit that can lead and will lead to cancer."

Doctors at UC San Diego said it could take up to 18 months for Gwynn to recover.

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