Robert De Niro ‘very supportive’ amid Bell’s palsy battle

Tiffany Chenactor Robert de Niro’s girlfriend says she had a “really easy” pregnancy with the couple’s child – but shortly after giving birth in April, she began experiencing troubling symptoms on her face.

“It was like everything was starting to fall on itself. Like, my face was melting on itself,” she told “CBS Mornings.” “And then a week after giving birth, that’s when it all hit.”

An MRI revealed that Chen had Bell’s palsyan unexplained medical condition that causes severe muscle weakness or facial paralysis.

Chen said De Niro was gentle and supportive during his health issues.

“He tried to say he didn’t see any difference, he didn’t see any change,” CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King Chen said in an exclusive interview. “He was like, ‘No. … You look good.’ He’s like, ‘Maybe you sound a little stern.’ And I’m like ‘Really?’ My whole face melted into itself. But it was very strong, very supportive.”

The rare disease affects only about 40,000 people in the United States each year. According to the National Institutes of Health, pregnant women appear to be at three times the risk of Bell’s palsy, particularly in the third trimester and early postpartum phase.

Chen said she had a sharp pain behind her left ear right after giving birth by caesarean section, and later noticed that her face looked “strange”. Doctors told her it was probably a buildup of fluid after giving birth, but when she returned from the hospital, her facial symptoms worsened. After calling her doctor, Chen was immediately readmitted to the hospital, where “everything fell out”, including her lower lip, which prevented her from speaking.

“I got to a point where it was hanging down and I had to hold it,” Chen said. “And to speak, I had to hold my chin and manipulate my lower lip to make certain sounds. I couldn’t say ‘Bob’.”

Sudden facial paralysis is the main symptom of Bell’s palsy, said Dr. Babak Azizzadeh, a plastic surgeon and facial reconstructor who treats people with facial palsy and Bell’s palsy at the Facial Paralysis Institute, which he founded. . But it usually only affects one side of the face.

Both sides of Chen’s face, however, were affected – what Azizzadeh called “a very rare circumstance”.

He said it’s not clear why pregnant women are more likely to develop the condition, but said doctors have speculated it could be linked to increased fluid activity or changes in immune system in the body.

Treatment often includes steroids, which Azizzadeh called “the most critical treatment”, and antiviral drugs. Chen said she took steroids and also had acupuncture. She also wore sunglasses while speaking with “CBS Mornings.”

Azizzadeh said Bell’s palsy doesn’t impact sensation in the eyes, but affects an essential facial muscle that helps close the eye. This can lead to dry, sensitive eyes and blinking problems.

Chen’s symptoms improved and she said she was not embarrassed by her appearance, but hated not being able to smile at her daughter, Gia Virginia Chen-De Niro.

“I couldn’t kiss her. That’s what made me embarrassed,” Chen said. “The thing that worried me was ‘What if it doesn’t get better?’ Was my child going to make fun of having a weird-looking mother? That’s the only time vanity kicks in. That’s how it affects the child.

Chen said it was frustrating to be publicly criticized about her appearance. When the couple announced the birth of their daughter, headlines initially focused on De Niro’s age, but people quickly assumed his facial expressions were due to the couple being tired or unhappy. .

“I’m like, ‘Mind your own business a bit. And if you want to say something, don’t always attach what you’re thinking in your mind as a story. You don’t know us. You don’t know what happened in someone’s life,” Chen said. “People were saying all kinds of nasty things about, you know, my appearance and my anger. And I was like, “This is, like, the happiest time of my life. “”

These comments helped her tell her story publicly.

“I think it’s something that’s private to all of us in some way, especially if you’ve experienced it. But it shouldn’t stay so private that people lock themselves in their homes,” he said. Chen said. “And women shouldn’t feel hurt, shamed or just branded.”

Bell’s palsy changed Chen’s life, but so did her daughter.

“She made (life) more fun,” Chen said, joking that the baby already had a favorite De Niro movie: “The One in the Delivery Room,” which she stars in.

Watch: Robert De Niro’s New Baby Makes His TV Debut on ‘CBS Mornings’

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