A young girl from a remote Kenyan village has regained her confidence and smile after living in the U.S. for a year and undergoing a series of operations to help rebuild her face.
When she younger, Saline Atieno’s face was ravaged by a rare flesh-eating bacteria that made it difficult for her to speak, eat and even breathe.
Last Saturday, a smiling and confident Saline, 12, returned home to Kenya after undergoing ten surgeries to reconstruct her face.
She is the first child to have had her life dramatically changed by the Smile Rescue Fund For Kids, a charity dedicated to helping children with facial deformities deemed virtually ‘untreatable’.
It was setup by Dr. Leon Klempner, an orthodontist on the cleft palate team at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, New York.
After making numerous mission trips to provide free surgeries to repair cleft palates or other facial deformities in children around the world, he wanted to do more to help those children with the most severe deformities.
‘On every mission I’ve gone on there’s always been one or two kids turned away because they are too severe to be able to treat and that’s always bothered me,’ Klempner told
Saline was just 3-years-old when she was diagnosed with Noma. The flesh-eating bacteria develops in the mouth and ravages the faces of its victims by destroying the soft and bone tissues of the face.
‘Noma attacked her face, ate through her skin, through her upper jaw, destroyed her nose and destroyed her palate…That’s the medical part,’ said Klempner.
‘The social part is she was basically a recluse, she had no friends, she didn’t go to school.’
She first came to the attention of Dr. Klempner in 2010, but it took three years of fundraising and navigating bureaucratic barriers before Saline finally arrived in the U.S. for treatment last June.
At first she was shy and afraid, and unwilling to show her face in public or look people in the eye.
‘We had to reconstruct a nose, an upper lip and a palate – and that was one big cavity, one big hole,’ Dr. Alexander Dagum, chief of the plastic and reconstructive surgery division at Stony Brook, told Fox.
Saline’s appearance began to improve, her doctors and host family noticed a marked improvement in both her health and self-esteem. She even grew six inches and learned to speak English.
‘Here everyone is welcoming her, telling her she is beautiful, I think that all really played a part of getting her to come out of her shell,’ said Jennifer Crean, who hosted Saline in her home for three months.
Saline had her tenth major surgery – to create a nose – in April and then on May 31 she flew back to Kenya. She is now able to breathe normally, speak more clearly and eat without spilling food and drink from her mouth.
Her risk for future infections has also decreased significantly now that the open cavity in her face has been closed. She may need a few corrective procedures to minimize scarring in the future.
‘No words can adequately express how I feel. You have not only taught me your language, and fixed my face, you have taught me how it feels to be taken care of and unconditionally loved. I never expected that. Goodbye- for now,’ she told Dr. Klempner before leaving.
Saline will be enrolled in a private boarding school in Kenya, where she will receive an education, a bed to sleep in and three meals per day – all funded by the Smile Rescue Fund.
‘She’s touched our lives and exposed us to what exists elsewhere and instilled this sense of gratitude in those of us that have been involved with her,’ said Dr. Klempner.
‘She’s been an inspiration to us and really a gift, she’s enriched our lives.’
With Saline’s journey almost at an end, Dr. Klempner is in the process of screening more children to bring to the U.S. for similar reconstructive surgeries.
Source: daily mail